Monday, January 16, 2012

Congress is Messing with the Internet

I (at least mostly) try to keep politics out of what I write because I want to be read by people who disagree with me as well as people who agree with me.  However, Congress is about to launch into some truly non-partisan stupidity.  The Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate give Big Content the ability to shut down Web sites through administrative action without any requirement to prove that a law was even broken.

By making the operators of Web sites responsible for user-created content, these bills threaten the existence of sites like reddit, Wikipedia, and Facebook.  They may also make it impossible for individuals in the United States to legally import prescription drugs from legitimate, licensed pharmacies in Canada and elsewhere.

The Senate bill includes blocking the domain names of sites that are alleged to have promoted illegal copying.  (The House bill did, too, but our Representatives seem to be backing down in the face of an increasingly loud outcry.) The Domain Name System (DNS) is at the heart of how the Internet and the World Wide Web work, and the Senate bill proposes to interfere with the operation of DNS.  You can see an amusing animated description of DNS, with a glimpse into the ignorance of our lawmakers, here: (2:38)  Happily, both of the lawmakers shown in the video are out of public office.

If you'd like to see a somewhat longer (4:20) video describing what these bills purport to do and what they're really likely to do check this:

These bills are so oppressive that reddit and Wikipedia plan to go offline on Wednesday, January 18 to protest them.

What dismays me is that both of Georgia's senators and one of our representatives (Congressman John Barrow, a Democrat from Georgia's twelfth district) are co-sponsors of these toxic bills.

I wrote to both of our Senators today.  I urge you to do the same.  "Blackout Day," Wednesday, January 18, would be a really good day to do so.  I didn't wait because I'll be in class all day on Wednesday.

You can read what the Electronic Frontier Foundation has to say about these bills and write to your senators and representative here:

My letter is below and you should feel free to borrow from it, but you will have more impact of you compose your own.

Dear Senators:

I am dismayed to find that you are a co-sponsor of the so-called PROTECT IP Act.  This is a toxic piece of legislation, written without an understanding of the issues and without regard to the American idea of due process.

I am a computer scientist by education and a teacher of computing at the university level.  As such, I can assure you that I do understand the technical issues, and that what I have written in the previous paragraph is not an exaggeration.

Copyright violation is already illegal and juries have imposed substantial penalties on egregious violators. This legislation seeks to replace due process with administrative solutions.  "Big content" has already demonstrated its willingness to abuse such administrative solutions under the DMCA.

Beyond the fundamental problem of due process and the myriad technical problems, PROTECT IP appears to have the effect of preventing individual Americans from importing prescription drugs from legitimate, licensed foreign pharmacies.  That will impose a hardship on the poor and those living on fixed incomes.

No amount of amendment or rewriting can rescue this toxic bill, so I urge you to withdraw your sponsorship and to vote against this ill-considered legislation.

I am a fiscal conservative and so I am likely to vote for Republican candidates over others.  However, this single issue is very important to me and I will remember your position on it when you run for re-election in a couple of years.

Best regards,
Bob Brown