The week of October 19, 2014

Me IRL: Jared Polis

By Kevin Collier

Jared Polis (D-Colo.) may be the most Internet-friendly congressman in history. He certainly has the credentials: A former Web entrepreneur, he’s the first openly gay parent in congressional history, a proponent of legalizing marijuana, an active redditor, and a League of Legends gamer. He’s also long accepted campaign contributions in Bitcoin, the booming cryptocurrency.

Polis has also assembled what is essentially the best Internet freedom voting record possible. He stood with Internet activists in voting against a string of unpopular bills, like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), and he cosponsored Aaron’s Law, the well-intentioned if ill-fated attempt to reform computer crime laws in the wake of Internet pioneer Aaron Swartz. Polis has also tried to reform the National Security Agency (NSA) and promised to fight any legislation that would hamper Bitcoin.

He spoke with The Kernel about the early days of the Internet and his struggle to find someone in Congress to play League of Legends with.

“It’s important for people to keep their focus on reining in the out-of-control NSA surveillance.” —Jared Polis

First screenname:

My old CompuServe ID, back in the ‘80s, was 70701,711.

Favorite early sites:

There weren’t sites back then; this was before the Web! It was just Compuserve and local BBSs (bulletin board systems). There were some multiplayer games that were kind of fun.

I had a 300-baud modem where you had to pick up the phone handle and put it into the modem to dial, and it was really slow. I remember getting the 1200 and it was very exciting.

Essential apps:

Hold on, let me look at my phone. [Pauses to look at his phone.] Well, when at work in Washington, the Capitol Bells app is indispensable, because it tells you when votes are, and what the votes are. For fun, I have CBS Sportsline on my phone. Obviously, I have Twitter and Facebook and the usual ones. And kids’ games for my 3-year-old.

What percentage of Congress actually uses their own Twitter account, rather than have a staffer run it?

I know several do it themselves, but the majority don’t.

Do you interact with other representatives online much? Like, do you play League of Legends with Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)? Do you DM Justin Amash (R-Mich.)?

I’m still looking for someone to play League of Legends. I would love to play with one of my colleagues.

I tweet back and forth with them. There’s another congressman named Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) from near San Francisco, in Marin County. We do this thing called Ask Jared, where he crashes my Ask Jared and I crash his Ask Jared, and we have this thing [on Twitter] called theJared Caucus.

What’s the biggest Internet issue that you’d like to see Congress take up?

I would say privacy is definitely one of the bigger ones. Also, continuing to be active against nation-states censoring the Internet, whether it’s China or the E.U. in its modification of search results.

Polis has also assembled what is essentially the best Internet freedom voting records possible.

Do you think we’ll see meaningful NSA reform come out of Congress?

The danger is that [the USA Freedom Act, which passed the House in May] is so watered down that it doesn’t matter—it doesn’t protect our privacy. So I think it’s important for people to keep their focus on reining in the out-of-control NSA surveillance.

Is there enough outrage to carry another bill?

I hope so, and there’s some champions in Congress, on both sides of the aisle. But the greater and more pronounced the outrage is, especially during election season, the more likely that Congress will act.

What else can Congress do?

Setting a good example here at home, and encouraging other nations to do the same.

The first obviously, privacy from government intrusion, calls for special legislation. Our Email Privacy Act stops [our current laws], where any government agency, like the IRS, can read your emails without a search warrant if they are older than six months. And of course, there’s also privacy on the corporate and commercial side, making sure people are empowered to control their own information.


Illustration by J. Longo