Two new pieces of legislature are working their way through our government, aiming to both censor the internet and spy on those who use it. One, being pushed into Congress from the Obama administration, aims to give the government broad powers over any Internet-based communications, able to wiretap communications that go both through a central server or even peer-to-peer interaction. “The turrurists ‘r comin’!”, they cry, but we know how well the last legislature enacted under this reasoning has worked. Fortunately, the Daily Wildcat picked up on this legislation and, while ignoring the outrageous technical aspects of such a bill, described its social consequences. We won’t bore you with a similar argument.
The second, equally dangerous to Internet freedom, is known as COICA – the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act.” If passed, this bill would create an Internet domain blacklist, allowing the DOJ to specify domains accused of “infringing activity” which would not be resolvable, if that infringement is “central” to the site’s purpose. That is, if you were to type in “youtube.com” and it were on the blacklist, your computer would not be able to find YouTube’s servers to connect to. As you might guess, govtrack shows that the major supporters are Hollywood.
The implications of this law are far-reaching. Not only could this be used to shut down sites that do host and provide infringing material, but it will likely be “shown” that many other sites are used for “infringement.” If many people use YouTube to listen to their favorite big-record-label music and watch clips from their favorite TV shows, does that make YouTube an infringing site? If the Pirate Party encourages piracy, even though it does not itself provide infringing material, is that enough reason to blacklist its website? We expect the MPAA would agree.
Consider the DMCA, which the US has had in place for nearly fifteen years now. It has been used for far more than suppressing copyright-infringing material: often for removing legitimate examples of fair use, suppressing free speech, and even preventing software security vulnerabilities from being disclosed or discussed. Foreign researchers have been recommended to avoid the US due to threats from the DMCA. Allowing COICA to pass would only exacerbate the same issues by giving the MPAA and its lobbyists far too much control over the Internet and the freedom it currently enjoys. China has become notorious for its “Great Firewall”–do we really consider ourselves in similar company?