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#OccupyInternet: How SOPA Threatens To Undermine Congress’ Ability To Lead & Your Freedom

15 January 2012 Ken Yeung One Comment

V for Vendetta movieIt’s somehow fitting that last night, as I was researching a bunch of articles about Texas Republican Lamar Smith’s latest attempt to stifle the freedom of speech that we have been given in the US Constitution that the blockbuster movie, Enemy of the State (starring Will Smith, Jon Voight, and Gene Hackman) aired on TV. The premise behind this movie is that a member of Congress, wants to push through a privacy bill that a Senator will not vote against, thus blocking its passage. What it would do is invade the privacy of Americans everywhere and allow the government to interfere in the freedom of speech. What’s even more coincidental is the news that happened yesterday where House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA-7th District), announced that the infamous bill being considered known as the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), is being held up and temporarily shelved until “issues are addressed“.

I swear that Enemy of the State is fitting right now. Why? Because at the end of the movie, the lawmaker who proposed the communication bill is interviewed on the steps of Congress and when asked if the bill is dead, he replies:

In its current form, yes, but the issue is still very much alive, I can assure you, unless, of course, no one worries about national security anymore. We knew that we had to monitor our enemies. We’ve also come to realize…that we need to monitor the people who are monitoring them.

I understand that the government wants to protect American investments and its citizens, but at a risk to the way that we communicate and our freedom of speech? The Stop Online Privacy Act that is was going through the House of Representatives along with the Senate version, Protect IP Act (PIPA), are dangerous bills that should be stopped. Why were these bills enacted in the first place? Apparently because members of Congress are hearing about piracy taking place in entertainment, arts, music, and within other content structures that takes away money from hard-working Americans. Yes, I’m in favor of stopping piracy and counterfeit goods, but by giving the government, who has a political leaning automatically, no matter what they say, can very much shape the way the Internet currently exists.

Yesterday, Congressman Smith announced that he was pulling one of the most controversial provisions of SOPA: DNS blocking. Just how important is this? As noted in a VentureBeat article, if this provision were to be included in both SOPA and PIPA, it would grant the United States government the power and authority, along with copyright holders, the ability to block websites with infringing, pirating, or counterfeiting intellectual property. VentureBeat continues to explain that “One method of blocking a website under SOPA — which Smith intends to remove — includes getting Internet service providers (like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon FiOS) to block the site’s DNS record, which would prevent people from visiting those sites.” This is absolutely remarkable that while the United Nations has declared the Internet a “human right”, the greatest country in the world feels compelled to limit access to its citizens. I’m even more frustrated by the fact that copyright holders have this control through the DNS blocking provision where they can systematically take out their competitors, vendors and partners around the world via the Internet simply by declaring that they are now infringing on their rights.

GovernmentKeep up with the latest news about the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) & Protect IP Act (PIPA)?

Check out my del.icio.us stack of bookmarked links curated – over 100+ articles talking about SOPA being debated now, from TechDirt, VentureBeat, Mashable, Ars Technica, CNET, and others!

 
In a nutshell, SOPA/PIPA are telling Americans that their government has the right to censor the Internet, even though we’ve told other countries not to stifle the Internet for their citizens. Although, in all fairness, President Barack Obama’s administration has come out against SOPA/PIPA because its current form doesn’t work for them. This post, penned by Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at the Office of Management and Budget, Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff, and, perhaps most important, Aneesh Chopra, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States and Assistant to the President and Associate Director of Technology at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, states two great points about how the Internet should be managed:

Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.

Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected. To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity. Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.

We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet.

Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.

So there you have it, three solid technology experts who have analyzed this information has provided a clear explanation why the current forms of SOPA and PIPA are bad and will do more damage than the intent that Congressman Smith had hoped for (no matter how good of an intent he meant). In fact, I believe that the testimony of these three experts far outweighs the testimony that was given by the supporters of SOPA in the first committee hearing, which featured members from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Motion Picture Asssociation of America, AFL-CIO, and Pfizer. These are not companies that you would necessarily associate with understanding Internet technology or ways to stop it. In fact, as I mentioned in my opinion post, I believe that these lawmakers within this committee are being fed influential data that is not educating them on how the Internet really works.

If Congress really wants to put people to work, they should not put restrictions on how business is being done. This is the 21st century and more and more is taking place on the Internet. The antiquated ways of doing business are over and manufacturers and legacy brands should learn to embrace the new forms of communication and business. In fact, you might want to read this fascinating and economic-enlightening post on about how the copyright holders are really scamming Congress. Something must be done to stop these scammers and violators of US laws, but complete Internet censorship is not the answer. I would think that for a political party that strives itself for encouraging the private sector, the Republicans, especially Congressman Smith, would be in favor of having companies develop new ways to combat these issues? Maybe instead of having a negative bill, we work on one that will encourage Americans to develop new technology to help control and minimize counterfeit technology while adopting to the behaviors that Americans are accustomed to? Let’s encourage Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and the many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to fight piracy by developing new technology to help build trust with brands and consumers so that we won’t be scammed and taken by any international website. I, for one, am glad that the House committee has decided to hear from companies that oppose SOPA/PIPA and these representatives from Reddit, Internet service provider Rackspace (who probably hosts dozens, if not hundreds, of startups on their servers), Union Square Ventures (a venture capitalist firm), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others.

While the Internet was created here in America, it is not American…it belongs to the international community and must be treated very carefully. There are no borders within the Internet so trying to legislate it should be the last thing we want to do. So if Congress wants to be hypocritical and tell us how to live our lives on the Internet while protecting big business but not bettering the world that we hired them for, then I feel further that there’s no reason to have representatives since if we don’t have unfiltered access to the Internet to speak our minds, who do we speak out to? Our government isn’t listening to us…just to brands who want to protect themselves.

Ken Yeung is a interactive strategist, project manager, and tech journalist. He's currently a Strategy and Research Content Lead at Orange Silicon Valley. Previously, he was the Bay Area Reporter for The Next Web, the Editor-in-Chief of Bub.blicio.us and a correspondent for Network Solutions' small business blog. These words are his own and not of his employer.
  • http://twitter.com/Gu42 Tom Peracchio

    You keep calling it the “Stop Online Privacy Act”  Congress is trying to stop PIRACY not PRIVACY. SOPA is an acronym for Stop Online Piracy Act.