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Government Gone Wrong, Censoring the Internet

There is a very important bill in front of both houses of Congress right now.  You may have heard of the house version as it’s been in the news recently.  It is “SOPA” which is the Stop Online Privacy Act.

This bill is written by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America as a way to stop online piracy.  Most of us understand that there are people that go online to steal copyrighted materials.  Starting with Napster, Kazaa, and then Limewire people were able to get any music they wanted for free.  The problem with the bill is not the claim that some are stealing, but their solution.

Most people don’t understand or need to understand how or why the Internet works.  A simple way to think about this is that every website or location on the web has a phone number called an IP Address.  Instead of having to remember those numbers, you can assign a name to that number to make life easy.  There is then a system that matches up those numbers with names called DNS (domain name servers).  Think of this as the phone book.  You look up a persons name in the white pages and you get their phone number.  It works the same way on the Internet.  When you go to www.google.com, it contacts DNS, it gets the IP address (phone number), and sends your computer to the right place.  There are DNS servers all over the world, and they work by replicating information from each other so they all contain the same and correct information.  (For the geeks out there, I know this is a very simplistic explanation)

If this bill passes, the Internet as we know it is gone.  The record and movie industry are trying to get the government to give them legal power to remove sites from DNS (the phone book) that house copyrighted products.  The industry knows that a lot of material is on servers outside the United States where US Courts hold no jurisdiction.  The only way they see to stop people in the United States from getting to these sites, is to change the way the Internet works.  Now what is the problem with this?  Here is just one example.  Let’s say that Joe Smith in Kansas uploads a copyrighted video onto this Facebook page.  The owner of that video sees it and applies to have Facebook removed from DNS servers in the United States.  Now the entire nation loses access to Facebook.  Before you think this is hyperbole, let’s remember that the people writing this bill have a lot of money and have made it known for over a decade they would like to kill the Internet.

There already is a law on the book in the US that handles these situations. (Digital Millennium Copyright Act)  Well the industry heads don’t think this goes far enough as it uses the courts the enforce copyright law.  They want the ability to censor the Internet on their own.  On top of the censorship, those people that actually created the Internet have come out against this law because it will damage the entire infrastructure and built in security.  Eighty three engineers, including Vint Cerf of Google and Paul Vixie who invented DNS, wrote a signed letter to Congress opposing the bill.

Here’s the letter:
We, the undersigned, have played various parts in building a network called the Internet. We wrote and debugged the software; we defined the standards and protocols that talk over that network. Many of us invented parts of it. We’re just a little proud of the social and economic benefits that our project, the Internet, has brought with it.
Last year, many of us wrote to you and your colleagues to warn about the proposed “COICA” copyright and censorship legislation. Today, we are writing again to reiterate our concerns about the SOPA and PIPA derivatives of last year’s bill, that are under consideration in the House and Senate. In many respects, these proposals are worse than the one we were alarmed to read last year.
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.
All censorship schemes impact speech beyond the category they were intended to restrict, but these bills are particularly egregious in that regard because they cause entire domains to vanish from the Web, not just infringing pages or files. Worse, an incredible range of useful, law-abiding sites can be blacklisted under these proposals. In fact, it seems that this has already begun to happen under the nascent DHS/ICE seizures program.
Censorship of Internet infrastructure will inevitably cause network errors and security problems. This is true in China, Iran and other countries that censor the network today; it will be just as true of American censorship. It is also true regardless of whether censorship is implemented via the DNS, proxies, firewalls, or any other method. Types of network errors and insecurity that we wrestle with today will become more widespread, and will affect sites other than those blacklisted by the American government.
The current bills — SOPA explicitly and PIPA implicitly — also threaten engineers who build Internet systems or offer services that are not readily and automatically compliant with censorship actions by the U.S. government. When we designed the Internet the first time, our priorities were reliability, robustness and minimizing central points of failure or control. We are alarmed that Congress is so close to mandating censorship-compliance as a design requirement for new Internet innovations. This can only damage the security of the network, and give authoritarian governments more power over what their citizens can read and publish.
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.
Senators, Congressmen, we believe the Internet is too important and too valuable to be endangered in this way, and implore you to put these bills aside.

There are tons of online resources that I ask you to read to learn more about this.  While this bill could fail, the fight will not end.  The RIAA and MPAA will not stop buying votes in Congress until this is done.  I urge you to call and send letters to your congressperson letting them know you are against censorship on the Internet.  Imagine applying these laws to stores in your neighborhood.  Every retailer knows it’s a reality that a certain percentage every year will be stolen from under their roof.  If we applied the SOPA solution to that problem, each time one item is stolen that store would be forced to shutdown.  The purpose of this legislation is not to stop actual copyrighted materials from being stolen, it is to stop the Internet from working as intended because a few industries see the Internet as dangerous to their bottom line.