Stopping SOPA - A backlash from the internet community against attempts to rein in content thieves

Posted in: Government & Policy at 22/01/2012 18:07

After this week a lot more people will know that SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act. Some 30m-40m of them, estimated Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, could have gone to the English-language version of his website on January 18th only to find it replaced by a dark, foreboding page headlined "Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge" and explaining SOPA's perils. A few other sites such as Reddit, a popular link-sharing service, shuttered themselves too, while Google blacked out its logo for American users, who number about 56m a day.

The backlash against SOPA has taken the bill's supporters -- media firms and others who want tougher protection for intellectual property -- by surprise. The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee seemed to be hustling it through: the first hearing in November was stacked with friendly witnesses and just one opponent, from Google. But now it is getting bogged down. Even before blackout day, the White House had weighed in with criticisms; Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, was said to have promised not to hold a floor vote until there was consensus; and Lamar Smith and Patrick Leahy, respectively the sponsors of SOPA and its marginally milder Senate sibling, the PROTECT IP Act or PIPA, suggested cutting out one of the most controversial provisions pending further discussion.

Also see:

Internet Society Supports Actions to Raise Awareness of the Consequences of Proposed U.S. Legislation, SOPA [news release]
Policies mandating DNS filtering undermine the open architecture of the Internet and raise human rights and freedom of expression concerns

The Internet Society Board of Trustees has expressed concern with a number of U.S. legislative proposals that would mandate DNS blocking and filtering by ISPs to protect the interests of copyright holders. While the Internet Society agrees that combating illicit online activity is an important public policy objective, these critical issues must be addressed in ways that do not undermine the viability of the Internet as a platform for innovation across all industries by compromising its global architecture. The Internet Society Board of Trustees does not believe that the Protect-IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are consistent with these basic principles.

Specifically, the Internet Society is concerned with provisions in both bills regarding Domain Name System (DNS) filtering. DNS filtering is often proposed as a way to block illegal content consumption by end users. Yet policies to mandate DNS filtering will be ineffective for that purpose and will interfere with cross-border data flows and services undermining innovation and social development across the globe.

Filtering DNS or blocking domain names does not remove the illegal content - it simply makes the content harder to find. Those who are determined to download filtered content can easily use a number of widely available, legitimately-purposed tools to circumvent DNS filtering regimes. As a result, DNS filtering encourages the creation of alternative, non-standard DNS systems.

From a security perspective, DNS filtering is incompatible with an important security technology called DNSSEC. In fact, DNSSEC would be weakened by these proposals. This means that the DNS filtering proposals in SOPA and PIPA could ultimately reduce global Internet security, introduce new vulnerabilities, and put individual users at risk.

Most worrisome, DNS filtering and blocking raises human rights and freedom of expression concerns, and often curtails international principles of rule of law and due process. Some countries have used DNS filtering and blocking as a way to restrict access to the global Internet and to curb free expression.

The United States has been a strong proponent of online Internet freedoms and therefore has an important responsibility to balance local responsibilities and global impact, especially with respect to Internet policy. Given this commitment to global Internet freedom, it would be harmful to the global Internet if the United States were to implement such an approach.

"The Internet Society Board of Trustees is deeply concerned about the ramifications of the PIPA and SOPA bills on the overall stability and interoperability of the Internet," said Raul Echeberria, Chairman of the Internet Society Board of Trustees. "The Board recognizes that there can be misuses of the Internet; however, these are greatly outweighed by the positive uses and benefits of the Internet. We believe the negative impact of using solutions such as DNS blocking and filtering to address these misuses, far outweighs any short-term legal or business benefits."

"The Internet Society believes that sustained, global collaboration amongst all parties is needed to find ways that protect the global architecture of the Internet while combating illicit online activities," said Internet Society President and CEO Lynn St. Amour. "Mandating DNS blocking and filtering is simply not a viable option for the future of the Internet. We must all work together to support the principles of innovation and freedom of expression upon which the Internet was founded."

For more details on DNS Filtering and to download a white paper, visit the issues section of our website.

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