Stop Online Piracy Act
In keeping with the goal to educate readers about the dangers of SOPA and PIPA, here is a piece by Ron Davis, originally posted on January 11, 2012.
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.
There was a big development in the fight against Internet censorship yesterday as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced yesterday that the controversial Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) would not come forward for a vote:
U.S. House Judiciary Committee Member Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) opponent has announced that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has promised him that he will not bring the bill to the floor. That mean, for all practical intents and purposes, that SOPA is dead.
In a press release, Issa announced that he was canceling his Wednesday hearing on “the impact of Domain Name Service (DNS) and search engine blocking on the Internet, has been postponed following assurances that anti-piracy legislation will not move to the House floor this Congress without a consensus.”
Issa said, “Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote.” Without the Majority Leader’s support, SOPA won’t get to the House’s floor, it will not be voted on, and this makes it essentially dead.
Along with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Issa had been on the forefront against SOPA. The two warned last week that time to kill the bill was quickly running out, and that opponents of SOPA, some of whom had become targets of political opponents, needed to keep the pressure on members of Congress.
So says a venture capitalist from New York City. Brad Burnham, CEO of Union Square Ventures, the Big Apple’s biggest venture capital company for the tech industry, is saying that not only with SOPA cost jobs (hey, Republicans, this bill you support is job-killer!) it will also be a dangerous attack on the very essence of what the Internet is supposed to be. He writes:
I have always believed that the entertainment industry’s effort to stop people from illegally downloading content on the Web by asking search engines and Internet Service Providers to make it more difficult for their users to find pirate sites — which illegally offer copyrighted content — was the wrong way to solve the problem. But I could never put my finger on why I felt so strongly about it. After all, the entertainment industry argues that they are only targeting the worst pirate sites and are only asking for help because those pirate sites are offshore and out of the reach of U.S. authorities.
At a recent dinner, Joi Ito, the head of the Media Lab at MIT, described the Internet as a “belief system” and I suddenly understood. The Internet is not just a series of pipes. Its core architecture embeds an assumption about human nature. The Internet is designed to empower individuals, not control them. It assumes that if individuals are empowered, they will do the right thing the vast majority of the time.
Going off of my colleague Ron Davis’ post about technological reasons to oppose that monstrosity known as SOPA (and it’s Senate twin, PIPA), here are a couple of news stories from earlier in the month to share with you. I am a bit late on these, I admit, but I want to place them here just to show how ineffectual SOPA will actually be.
The first “solution” will probably fail and end in misery and a fireball, but you have to give some credit to these guys: a group of hackers want to send up a satellite that will act as an independent file-sharing server, a sort of space age Sealand:
The scheme was outlined at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin.
The project’s organisers said the Hackerspace Global Grid will also involve developing a grid of ground stations to track and communicate with the satellites.
Longer term they hope to help put an amateur astronaut on the moon.
Hobbyists have already put a few small satellites into orbit - usually only for brief periods of time - but tracking the devices has proved difficult for low-budget projects.
The hacker activist Nick Farr first put out calls for people to contribute to the project in August. He said that the increasing threat of internet censorship had motivated the project.
“The first goal is an uncensorable internet in space. Let’s take the internet out of the control of terrestrial entities,” Mr Farr said.
He cited the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) in the United States as an example of the kind of threat facing online freedom. If passed, the act would allow for some sites to be blocked on copyright grounds.
My post from earlier today, 8 Technological Reasons to Stop SOPA & PIPA, discussed the legitimate technological problems with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). These bills are supposed to be an attempt at stopping online piracy, but as I mentioned yesterday, they will not work but will instead cause harm to the speed, reliability, security, and safety of the Internet.
There are also political reasons this legislation should not be supported. Here are eight of them:
SOPA and PIPA will not stop piracy. It’s even a stretch to argue that they would impact it at all. I explained how earlier, but the technical details aren’t important to today’s point. If proposed legislation will obviously not accomplish its stated purpose, it should never pass. This one point alone should be enough for your congressman and senators to oppose it. In case it’s not enough, keep reading; I have seven more reasons.
SOPA and PIPA mandate censorship compliance. When a domain name is seized by the government, ISPs are forced to comply with the censorship. There is no option of appeal for the ISPs; they must comply.
The method of seizing domain names lacks due process for the accused. These bills take a “guilty until innocent” approach to Internet censorship. If the site that has been seized is truly not violating copyrights, the owner can follow a process to get his site restored, but this process is backward from what the Fifth Amendment would require. Voting for legislation which so obviously ignores the Fifth Amendment would be a violation of the oath of office for any legislator.
Despite the media paying little attention to the dangers of the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) even as our own State Department is putting pressure on foreign governments to crackdown on piracy, some businesses opposing the legislation are preparing their own form of protest:
With debate over SOPA’s future tabled until Congress reconvenes, you might think the issue would have entered a similar lull, but that’s not happened. According to Markham Erickson, head of the NetCoalition trade association, there’s been talk of a so-called “nuclear option,” in which the likes of Google, Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo! would go simultaneously dark to protest the legislation to highlight the fundamental danger the legislation poses to the function of the internet.
There’s been no formal decision on the matter, and the companies in question obviously risk consumer anger and backlash over any suspension of services. There is, however, safety in numbers — and a few simple sentences identifying why the blackout is in place will ensure that the majority of the rage flows in the proper direction.
With President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law last week, it should serve as a reminder that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is the next battle that civil liberties and privacy advocates should turn our attention to. Some are already taking the fight over this issue straight to SOPA supporters. For example, Reddit users launched a campaign against GoDaddy, which caused the Internet hosting firm to switch its position to opposition of SOPA. Similarly, they also went after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a popular figure in the conservative movement, causing problems for his staff and, potentially, his re-election campaign.
Why is there such a backlash against this legislation? Because it promotes Internet censorship and elimates due process for website owners and operators. Jerry Brito explained the problems with SOPA at Time back in November:
We’ve been posting a lot about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) lately. You’re going to continue to hear about it online over the next few weeks. SOPA is touted by supporters as legislation that would prevent copyright infringement and secure intellectual property rights, but it would actually promote internet censorship and ignore due process. In fact, SOPA isn’t likely to stop piracy.
If you want to learn more about the law and its implications, you should watch this video that explains how many of the companies supporting SOPA are in fact guilty of distributing software that promotes piracy: