I’ve written a couple of times about how the “Death of the Internet” seemed to be just over the horizon. These were technical issues, and they were overcome by technical fixes. But congress is about to make changes that will not only usher in an age of censorship on the US part of the Internet, but will cause stability and security issues that will not just affect us in the US, but will have a ripple effect around the globe. The people who are sponsoring and trying to pass SOPA (the Stop Internet Piracy Act) are positioning themselves as friends of tyrants everywhere at the behest of Hollywood.
Eric Erickson wrote about the political aspects and suggests action. You should read the whole thing, but here is the nub of the problem:
The Act intends to stop online piracy. The way the Act goes about doing this is, in large part, allowing Eric Holder to take control of the internet and shut down websites he does not like. It is a totalitarian response from a bipartisan coalition of Congresscritters most of whom admit they have no freaking idea how the internet even works. Don’t believe me?
In a committee hearing on SOPA, co-sponsor Mel Watts (D-NC) was really open about itsaying, “I’m not a nerd” before proceeding to admit he understood nothing about the law, how the internet worked, or pretty much anything else related to it.
This is really important. If anything, Erickson understates the issue. SOPA provides for the Internet Death Penalty as soon as anyone accuses you of infringing. Your domain name is seized and Internet companies are ordered not to send traffic to your site. It stays that way till you prove that you’re innocent. How many times have you heard of false accusations causing a page or video to be taken down on Facebook or YouTube? This will make the entire public Internet operate like that. Got an opinion someone doesn’t like? It will vanish off the net till you hire a lawyer and prove you’re innocent in a hearing. If you can afford that and manage to win your case someone can start all over on you the day after your site goes live. All they have to do is complain about another item on your site.
One of the reasons bringing power to much of even large cities in Iraq was that the power grid had a basic design requirement that wasn’t consistent with reliable power. Saddam Hussein ordered the power grid set up so that he could turn off power to a block, a neighborhood, or entire sections of the city in order to punish them for some wrong, real or imagined. In effect that’s what SOPA wants to do to the Internet, and the effects on reliability may well be worse than the problems with power distribution that Hussein left his people.
SOPA will also likely cost us high-tech jobs in the US. We’re already exporting jobs by the truckload due to regulation. Why would any company with the resources to locate their web hosting or data centers elsewhere pay higher US costs to be connected to a less secure Internet? Outsourcing and bringing jobs back to the US tends to move in a cycle every few years in US high tech. If the US portion of the net becomes less secure that cycle is likely to be broken, with network and data center operations remaining overseas forever.
Then there’s the security angle. If I tried to explain a few of the ways that SOPA would compromise security it is likely your eyes would glaze over. (You probably don’t read mailing lists where Internet core operational issues are discussed for fun.) But consider the number of stories of hackers from overseas, often from China, stealing valuable information. Just this week it was revealed that cyber spies from China had hacked into the US Chamber of Commerce, stealing information on Asia policy. But with identity theft, credit card fraud, and spying rampant somehow congress thinks it’s a good idea to make the Internet less secure.
Joshua Kopstein wrote after the SOPA hearings:
This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. The fact that some of the people charged with representing us must be dragged kicking and screaming out of their complacency on such matters is no longer endearing — it’s just pathetic and sad.
He titled his piece “Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works.” It’s true. While congress can’t be expert in everything, they should be willing to listen to people who are, especially on highly complex technical subjects. They could start by listening to the 83 leading Internet Engineers who signed “An Open Letter From Internet Engineers to the U.S. Congress.”
It’s past time we rid ourselves of Luddites who in an earlier age would have voted to set the value of pi to 3, and those who are willing to sell our First Amendment rights for Hollywood campaign contributions - No matter what party they’re in.