There are very few petitions that I think will actually do something. Usually, I simply don’t bother. Nobody reads them or listens to them. However, there are exceptions, and here is one of them.
Apparently, Wikipedia is considering going dark to protest the censorship monstrosities “Stop Online Piracy Act” and “Protect IP Act,” and DemandProgress has a petition website up where you can pledge to donate $1 if they do go dark, or simply sign a nonmonetary petition to do so. I have pledged the money, not only because I oppose SOPA, but also because I have used Wikipedia a lot over the years, and I would like to give back to that community.
We’ve been over why SOPA is a bad idea here many times. There are sincere technological problems with SOPA, along with political issues. It’s a cure that’s worse than the disease. The backers behind SOPA are pirates themselves. Wikipedia would also not be alone in this, if it does go through. All of these are reasons why we need to do something about this bill, and do it now.
There’s legislation in the House and Senate right now that is very troubling to me. In the House, it’s called the Stop Online Piracy Act (abbreviated SOPA); in the Senate, it’s called PROTECT IP (or PIPA). The goal of the legislation is to stop online piracy, which is definitely a problem. The Senate will be voting on it later this month, and for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been in awe at the absurdity of this legislation while trying to find a proper way to respond to it.
I’m a freedom loving, Constitution defending, small government guy who writes my own personal opinion about politics (which, for the record, may or may not always be the view of my employer). My day job (the one that actually pays bills) is as a systems administrator for a very large company. I’ve spent the vast majority of the last 13 years since my college graduation dealing with the technology of the Internet, and I know it quite well.
My career in IT and my fondness for liberty make me one of a relatively small number of political bloggers qualified to address this issue from both the technological and political points of view. Today I am discussing the technological issues around this legislation; tomorrow I’ll post the political problems with it.
This weekend I spent a lot of time poring over this legislation, blog posts, and white papers about it. I made my own notes and then merged my concerns of this legislation with those I found elsewhere on the Internet. This post is a fairly exhaustive list of the technological problems with SOPA and PIPA.
When a domain is seized, the pirated content still exists on the server. Additionally, it can still be accessed by its IP address. There is nothing, outside of draconian national firewall rules, that can be done to stop Americans from accessing this content.
In one of the few instances of “good news,” or at least “not that terrible news,” the Stop Online Piracy Act has been delayed until after the winter recess:
WASHINGTON POST - The House Judiciary Committee confirmed Tuesday that it will delay continuing debate on the Stop Online Piracy Act until after Congress returns from its winter recess.
Committee spokeswoman Kim Smith said in an e-mailed statement that the hearing is expected to be scheduled for “early next year.”
Well, that is certainly good news on one front. It at least means they won’t be shoving it down our throat today.
But they’re going to try again. It always happens.
There was widespread outrage when TARP was first proposed, and under that public onslaught, the House of Representatives bucked its campaign contributors and shot the plan down. There was much rejoicing—until they passed it, with even more pork, four days later.
Now, I’m not saying this is necessarily what will happen with SOPA. It may come back and it may be defeated. That is certainly a possibility. But it will come back. The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America—which I have heard sarcastically referred to, combined, as the MAFIAA—have far too much invested in controlling your Internet access and your personal computer. Do you think they’re just going to give up the possibility of more control over your lives? Of course not. No corporation that could obtain such lucrative rents from the government is going to give it up that easily.
I’m kind of a rare breed of libertarian. I actually believe in the concept of intellectual property. As such, some might be under the belief that folks like me would be in favor of something like the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.
Of course, they would be horribly, horribly wrong.
Regardless of ones feelings on IP, the reality is that SOPA is nothing less than a NDAA or PATRIOT Act for the internet.
You see, the internet is the last bastion of freedom anywhere in the world. While it’s entirely possible to render something illegal in one country, it’s virtually impossible to stamp it out. Laws and regulations become meaningless as physical borders mean nothing on a cyberscape free from such lines.
The kick in the butt with this bill, as with many similar bills, is that it really won’t do a whole heck of a lot to combat piracy. Of course, there are some that will argue that what SOPA seeks to do is crush that freedom. That ideas breed in such freedom, and such ideas can not be allowed to incubate.
I don’t know if I would go that far, but what is clear is that SOPA is nothing more than a powergrab. Those that are supposed to support and defend the Constitution have instead decided to just ignore the document completely.
SOPA seeks to require your ISP to spy on you. It seeks to hurt companies like Mozilla that haven’t done what the powerful want it to do. It seeks to rewrite the current laws regarding the internet and remake it into a place where innovation no longer happens.
Now, SOPA may not be all bad. After all, plenty of companies will love to open up their nations to the off-shore dollars that are bound to flee the United States after a SOPA-like bill is passed. While I’m not an opponent of out sourcing per se, I’d prefer it not to be encouraged through idiotic legislation.
On the heels of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which effectively shredded the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and Habeas Corpus, Congress will likely take up the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) at some point early next year.
Introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and co-sponsored by representatives from both parties (the bill has a total of 31 co-sponsors!), the Stop Online Piracy Act purports to stop “foreign online criminals from stealing and selling America’s intellectual property and keeping the profits for themselves.”
According to Rep. Smith’s website, “IP theft costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. The Stop Online Piracy Act specifically targets foreign websites primarily dedicated to illegal activity or foreign websites that market themselves as such. The bill ensures that profits from America’s innovations go to American innovators.”
That sounds relatively harmless, but there has been a lot of concern among tech-advocates that SOPA would would lead to censorship and deter innovation on the Internet.
I’ve been following the progress of the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” or SOPA, also known as the “Internet Blacklist Bill,” for some time now, but haven’t posted about it because I feel that other websites cover it far better. Recently, though, I’ve seen some news I feel I have to share to United Liberty readers, because it comes straight from the “Holy Crap I Never Saw THAT Coming!” department.
For a good summary of why SOPA is a bad law, you should read the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s explanation. You can also grab the actual text of the law here. In effect, the bill would criminalize “casual piracy”—linking a music video on Facebook would land you some stiff penalties, as well as penalties for Facebook. Goodbye Youtube, as well. For that reason, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, Google, and a host of other Internet giants have come out against the bill, in addition to groups like EFF, DemandProgress, CreativeCommons, and Mozilla.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” — George Orwell
— Internet-wide protest against government surveillance: Some of the most well-known tech firms and civil liberties organizations will participate tomorrow in “The Day We Fight Back,” an Internet-wide protest against government surveillance, hoping to replicate the success of protests two years ago against SOPA and PIPA. Organizers are also dedicating the event to Aaron Swartz, an online activist who committed suicide last year. He was facing federal charges at the time of his death. More than 4,500 websites are expected to participate in the protest, according to The Hill.
— Hardly any Democrat wants to campaign with Obama: Politico reports this morning that only a handful of Democrats running in races across the country gave an “unequivocal ‘yes’” when asked if they would campaign with President Obama.
The National Security Agency’s broad surveillance programs aren’t just bad for Americans’ privacy, they’re also bad for business. That’s what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — a guy who knows a thing or two about running an Internet firm — said on Wednesday at an event hosted by TechCrunch:
While speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt event in San Francisco, Zuckerberg emphasized that it is his job “and our job to protect everyone who uses Facebook and all the information they share with us.” He said the government response put U.S. tech firms doing business overseas in a tough spot.
“It’s our government’s job to protect all of us and also to protect our freedoms and protect our economy … and companies,” he added. “And I think they did a bad job of balancing those things here. … So frankly, I think the government blew it. They blew it on communicating the balance of what they were going for here with this.”
Zuckerberg appeared to be noting the government’s initial steps when the NSA story first broke after revelations by leaker Edward Snowden.
“The morning after this started breaking, a bunch of people asked them what they thought,” he said. “And the government’s comment was, ‘Oh don’t worry, basically we’re not spying on any Americans.’ Oh, wonderful, that’s really helpful to companies who are trying to serve people around the world and really going to inspire confidence in American Internet companies. Thanks for going out there and being clear about what you are doing. I think that was really bad.”
Should the government be snooping around you e-mails and cloud accounts? Given that there are constitutional safeguards in place to guarantee our privacy, one would think that the answer to this question would be obvious. But because federal laws haven’t been updated to cover online communication, law enforcement agencies haven’t bothered to obtain warrants for these searches. Additionally, efforts to pass SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA — bills that would have dire implications for online privacy and due process — are likely to resurface soon.
Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, and Laura Murphy, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, teamed up recently to discuss the issue of Internet privacy and to announce a joint effort to address this issue in an op-ed at Politico:
The essential elements of [the Electronic Communications Privacy Act] have not changed since 1986, and the courts have failed to keep pace, saying remarkably little about the Constitution’s application to new technology. Hence, the government can contend ECPA gives it the authority to ignore your privacy to an extent that would have shocked the framers of the Constitution.