January 2, 2012
This month two very dangerous bills will continue to be pushed in the House and Senate. The “Stop Online Privacy Act” (SOPA) and the “Protect IP Act” (PIPA) are among the most anti-Constitutional bills considered in the last decade. If passed they will make it possible shut down websites in the U.S. without warning and limited right to appeal. It’s only because of the “National Defense Authorization Act” President Obama signed into law Saturday that they aren’t the worst of 2011. More on the NDAA next time.
Eighty three of the scientists and engineers who created and developed the internet have signed an open letter to Congress expressing their concerns. Their concerns aren’t minor. The technical concerns should be enough to lay the bills to rest:
If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure. Regardless of recent amendments to SOPA, both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences. In exchange for this, such legislation would engender censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties’ right and ability to communicate and express themselves online.
Unlike laws against yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, these bills don’t really do anything to protect anything, but do quite a bit to damage everything. When you start looking at possible political and economic consequences, it’s even worse:
The US government has regularly claimed that it supports a free and open Internet, both domestically and abroad. We cannot have a free and open Internet unless its naming and routing systems sit above the political concerns and objectives of any one government or industry. To date, the leading role the US has played in this infrastructure has been fairly uncontroversial because America is seen as a trustworthy arbiter and a neutral bastion of free expression. If the US begins to use its central position in the network for censorship that advances its political and economic agenda, the consequences will be far-reaching and destructive.
In the end, these bills are perfect censorship tools. Having a site removed from the DNS listings is insanely easy. That’s the idea. Make it easier for the groups owning intellecutal property to take down sites that might be stealing it – or helping others steal it. It’s so easy you don’t even have to give any evidence, just the accusation is enough to get a site taken down.
The companies that would be hurt most by these bills are well aware of the potential damage. An article by Declan Mcullagh at CNET.com says that some of the largest companies on the internet – Google, eBay, Amazon and others – are contemplating an Internet blackout, possibly for the January 23rd, the day before the Senate starts debate on PIPA. Imagine what would happen if for a day you couldn’t access Facebook, Twitter, or any other major social network. You couldn’t go to eBay or Amazon to buy or sell stuff. Youtube and other video sites are down. And all of them have a placeholder telling you that this is exactly what could happen if the Congress passes an Internet censorship bill similar to PIPA and SOPA. Would you sit up, pay atten, and contact your representatives? You should, because that is exactly what could happen.
SOPA and PIPA are dangerous. They don’t do anything for the problem they are allegedly trying to solve and could do a whole lot of damage. A good place to learn more is the EFF website. The article 2011 in Review: Fighting the Internet Blacklist Bills is a good place to start. Then contact your congressmen. For your senators go to the U.S. Senate website. For your Representative go the the U.S. House website. Tell them to fight SOPA (House) and PIPA (Senate).
This article was posted: Monday, January 2, 2012 at 9:14 am