Begin Again

Remember that whole SOPA/PIPA thing? The ridiculously overkill bill, ostensibly intended to combat piracy by monitoring your communications and freezing the funds of websites without a court hearing, based on the claims of 3rd party content holders, plus the seizing and censoring of domain names? The latter of which has been occurring anyway? And there was a huge international backlash leading Congress to shelve the bill (which they’re now allegedly looking at again already)?

There’s another pair of them in the works. Oddly it has the exact same sort of provisions, but this time it’s not for copyright theft, it’s for cyber security. They get to monitor your communications and freeze funds to websites and seize domain names and censor shit etc., but it’s ok, because this time it’s for security even if it’s being pushed by copyright advocates!

This time it’s called CISPA in the House, and SECURE IT in the Senate (which is retarded, it won’t do shit to secure IT. Take it from a 13 year IT pro). Interestingly, it sounds like Congress isn’t aware that the same people are up in arms about this one. The fact that the bills haven’t passed yet certainly haven’t slowed down the Customs Enforcement officials from seizing domain names. Although most such seizures have taken down sites selling counterfeit goods (fake Rolex’s, for instance), many have affected perfectly legitimate websites. And for those legit sites that do see their domain name seized, there’s almost no legal recourse (that the DOJ follows, anyway). Nor is there warning or open legal proceedings beforehand

If you’d like to think that this only affects the guilty, you’re quite wrong. In addition to the case linked above of the site seized incorrectly, there’s the well known Megaupload case. Megaupload offered a place for users to store whatever files they liked. Some of these were pirated files, but piracy wasn’t a part of their business model: it was just that users hosted the files. Nevertheless, when the site’s domain and servers were seized, millions of legitimate users lost their own personal files. Users who need those legitimate files are presently SOL, aside from a few who are pursuing lawsuits. But on top of that, the DOJ is pushing to have all that data on those servers erased… which means the evidence for the trial will be deleted.  

But why stop there? The US, and the US’s entertainment industry, have been involved in strongarm tactics with other nations threatening them with trade restrictions if they fail to pass SOPA-like bills. Spain is the most notable example, and they’ve been receiving dozens of requests for site takedowns in just a few months since their version of the bill was passed.    

Furthermore, the bill will again make it a criminal act to use technologies to bypass it, meaning software like TOR that was built (and promoted by the State Department) to allow individuals living under oppressive regimes to access censored content would now be illegal to use in the US. And ain’t that some shit. 

This ridiculous level of misguided-at-best tech policy has led to backlash in several countries. The humorously named Pirate Party has actually seen significant successes in Europe and in particular Germany. Unfortunately, the structure of the US political system makes such changes incredibly difficult to implement (which is why I’ve become an advocate for Proportional Representation here… you don’t vote for a candidate, you vote for a party, and that party wins a number of seats based on the percentage of votes. This means that while big parties will still be in control, small parties based on specific platforms will give you a chance to be sure that less well known issues that matter to YOU see at least some representation). 

That’s not to say that nothing can be done, of course. As we get closer to the voting on this new censorship bill (April 23rd is the present schedule), you can reach out to your elected representatives to highlight your concern. The EFF, of which I am a proud member, has a handy-dandy form to help you find and contact said representatives