Beware of the Senate's and House's Internet Censorship Bills

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The United States Senate is shaping up to be a killer of freedom.
On December 1, 2011, by a bipartisan 93:7 vote, the Senate passed a bill — S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 — that, in Sec. 1301, gives the President of the United States the authority to have the military arrest and detain U.S. citizens without charge or trial. All in the name of combating “terrorism.”
Now, the Senate is considering a bill — S. 968, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) (sponsored by Patrick Leahy, D-Vt) — that, in the name of combating Internet theft of intellectual property, can be misused by government to censor us. The House version — HR 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — is similarly flawed.

Jennifer Rubin writes for the Washington Post, Dec. 12, 2011, that PIPA and SOPA are unnecessarily overbroad and a formula for a host of undesirable and unintended consequences, including:

  • Give copyright holders and government the power to cut off Web sites unreasonably. They could be shut down, and search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo could be stopped from linking to them. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said PIPA “would require ISPs [Internet service providers] to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked.” [Source: ABC News] r
  • Harvard law professor and Supreme Court advocate Laurence Tribe has submitted a memo detailing the multiple ways in which SOPA runs afoul of the First Amendment. For example, “SOPA provides that a complaining party can file a notice alleging that it is harmed by the activities occurring on the site ‘or portion thereof .’ Conceivably, an entire website containing tens of thousands of pages could be targeted if only a single page were accused of infringement. Such an approach would create severe practical problems for sites with substantial user-generated content, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and for blogs that allow users to post videos, photos, and other materials.”
  • Tribe also points out that “The notice-and-termination procedure of Section 103(a) runs afoul of the ‘prior restraint’ doctrine, because it delegates to a private party the power to suppress speech without prior notice and a judicial hearing. This provision of the bill would give complaining parties the power to stop online advertisers and credit card processors from doing business with a website, merely by filing a unilateral notice accusing the site of being ‘dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ — even if no court has actually found any infringement. The immunity provisions in the bill create an overwhelming incentive for advertisers and payment processors to comply with such a request immediately upon receipt.”

This is what Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) says about PIPA:

“I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective. […] By ceding control of the Internet to corporations through a private right of action, and to government agencies that do not sufficiently understand and value the Internet, PIPA represents a threat our economic future and to our international objectives. Until the many issues that I and others have raised with this legislation are addressed, I will object to a unanimous consent request to proceed to the legislation.”

There is an alternative to PIPA and SOPA.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have introduced a competing bill, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (the “Open Act”), which seeks to address legitimate concerns about SOPA/PIPA and focus more specifically on the real problem without knocking down robust, protected speech in an indiscriminate fashion. Google, AOL, eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Mozilla, Yahoo!, and Zynga have signed on to support this alternative to SOPA/PIPA.
The Hill recently reported on OPEN: “The draft proposal would instead authorize the International Trade Commission to investigate and issue cease-and-desist orders against foreign websites that provide pirated content or sell counterfeit goods. The ITC would have to find that the site is ‘primarily’ and ‘willfully’ engaged in copyright infringement to issue the order.” Rather than take down entire websites and potentially interfere with perfectly legitimate and protected speech OPEN, would, after a court order, “compel payment providers and online advertising services to cease providing services to the offending website. The approach comports with current copyright law and hews to the ‘follow the money’ approach favored by Google and other tech companies.”
Jennifer Rubin concludes:

“In short, this is not a fight between protectors of copyrights and Internet anarchists. Rather, there is a legitimate policy dispute about how broad and how disruptive government enforcement powers should be when core First Amendment rights are at issue. No doubt the Motion Picture Association of America, headed by disgraced former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd, has spread plenty of money around Congress to try to give the government the bluntest, heaviest weapon to fight piracy. But that doesn’t make it good policy. And it sure doesn’t make for constitutional legislation.”

So, tell your senators and representative that you want the Issa-Wyden Open Act, instead of the Senate’s PIPA and the House’s SOPA!
UPDATE: Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales is threatening to turn off the site to protest against PIPA and SOPA.

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7 responses to “Beware of the Senate's and House's Internet Censorship Bills

  1. Punks in DC, both left and right, are just out of control. These goons think up ways to kill our freedoms on a daily basis. Argh…
    Going to email my senators and try to stop the madness!

  2. Did anyone notice the bound up guy in the image looks like C Thomas Howell? Just wondered.

  3. If they weren’t all so paranoid then it wouldn’t be so manic up on The Hill, but ever since JFK and his brother Robert were assassinated, the fear of being wiped out wouldn’t enter into every thought, every discussion and every bill that is proposed or passed. Going along to get along is making things really ugly. Darrell Issa is a real character and he has his hands full, but who knows what goes on behind even his office door.

  4. Dennis H. Bennett

    I’m really against littering, but I have an idea for a counter-offensive to the metastasis of Obotmania.
    We can institute the the use of “Radical” in front of all the PC, Multicultural, Diversity distortions.. For instance: in what could be a comment somewhere, “Leahy D-VT demonstrates his devotion to radicalizing the 1st Amendent through his proposed S.968”. Kind of a reverse Rosie O!
    OK, OK. Just throw me in the Obocooler……..

  5. How come they are spending all this time granting money for military expenditure and worrying about the internet when they can’t even come with a plan for unemployment benefits. What in the world are we thinking to let them carry on like this. OWS is making a fuss but we are just watching them and pitying them for not being coherent about their gripes. The internet community is very well informed but the information we have is not put to use, sometimes a petition is set out there and we never really hear what happened to our signature. It sounds like the oligarchy trying to make people more frustrated and that means Congress is working for the oligarchs. Whenever a politician is interviewed it’s always mutter mutter mutter. It’s just like Faulty Towers, and yet we are a nation thet first landed men on the Moon. Have we all had secret labotomies?
    We are, meaning I am getting upset by not being able to get any points across about how to work things out for the good. Reinstate Glass Steagall for starters.
    Go from there………………

    • Alice,
      We all feel frustrated. Instead of yelling at us for having had “secret lobotomies,” please enumerate for us what you want us to do. I work my butt off all day, every day of the week, with no off day, finding news and writing about them on FOTM. What is it that you do, other than bitch and complain?

  6. Everything in Washington has become downright spooky (with the notable exception of the Tea Party). At a time when we are so profoundly betrayed by our government, and facing apocalyptic threats like the “Mayan Calendar”, I have found enduring strength in Psalm 46. This scripture speaks of stability and divine protection in times of immense upheaval. Please read it for yourself. You’ll find it remarkably timely in its message.


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