Patriot Act for the Internet a Bad Idea

When there is wide-spread unlawful behavior, there’s a temptation for many to implement draconian measures.  Whether the threat is terrorism, or illegal immigration, or controlled substances, the suggested counters have often been too far reaching.  One has to be careful that the laws proposed are not more detrimental to society than the cure.

I worry about the threat of terrorism but I don’t want the the executive branch to have unlimited power to surveil innocent citizens or detain suspected terrorists without any thought of due process.  Illegal immigration is indeed a problem but huge electrified fences are not the solution.  I despise wanton drug use but one cannot argue how ineffective (and expensive) the war on drugs has been.

There is currently a bill in House called the Stop Online Piracy Act that makes the same mistake in the area of copyright violations.

It’s purportedly designed to thwart music and movie piracy by empowering copyright holders to isolate and shut down websites or online services found with infringing content. SOPA is the House version of the bill, introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), and there’s another in the Senate called the Protect IP Act, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Hearings on SOPA began Wednesday, and the chances it’ll pass are excellent, because it’s backed by powerful business lobbies and has bipartisan majority support in both the House and Senate. If it does pass, the only thing that could shut it down would be a veto by President Obama.


In short, SOPA, if passed, would allow the U.S. government to blacklist any website found to have infringing material, inhibiting access to said sites using DNS filtering techniques similar to those employed by China and Iran. What’s “infringing material”? Anything deemed in violation of copyright, say a few posts by users in a web forum or on a social network—even links sent in email.

There is no doubt that the internet is full of illegally copied material and that fact is no doubt frustrating to the lawful producers of that material.  But the SOPA gives the government far too much discretion as to who is guilty of violations.   Consider the case of YouTube, where copyright violations happen every day.  The proper way to handle it is the way it is handled currently.  Google is already very responsive to copyright complaints and frequently takes down videos.

Under the proposed legislation, the government could shut down all of YouTube because of a few incorrectly posted videos.  It is unreasonable to assume that Google could control millions of videos being posted every day.  And the value of YouTube to society is indeed that millions of people can post those videos every day.  Entertainment value aside, YouTube is an excellent resource for citizen journalists.  When some moronic OWS protester commits a crime, it can appear on YouTube within minutes straight from the cell phone of a witness.  You has better believe that the legal pressure to shut down YouTube (and a number of similar sites) would be immense should such a law be passed.

The SOPA create an untenable requirement on service providers.  It suggests the equivalent of the government being authorized to shut down all McDonald’s because one teenage employee in one store pulls some dumb prank at 2 AM.  In short, it give the government too much power and the government has proved time and time again that it is too large and to driven by partisan politics to be trusted with such power.

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  • Anonymous

    Governments and oligarchs are looking for ways to control the internet.  I don’t think places like this will be around in ten years. 

    • They can try as they might, the solution is darknets.  And people are always one step ahead, especially when you have DT2/DP2p systems that are fully anonymous.

      • Anonymous

        Who the heck is going to be able to figure that stuff out?  We’re not all techies.

        • Can you follow instructions?  If so, your problem is solved.

          • When people want something, they will go to great lengths to find it.

            The technical skills you possess today would make you a “techie God” forty years ago.  The idea of sending electronic mail, web browsing, etc….completely foreign in the 1970’s.  

            Most people now know how to use a computer.  Without being scared of it or thinking Satan was going to jump out of the keyboard.

          • The skills I have today put me into the ‘techie god’ status.  I suppose the problem is, you’re thinking old, I’m thinking in general.  Anyone under about 40 won’t have a problem with this.  Anyone between 40-50 might have a problem with this, anyone between 50-70 will need a helping hand.

            Then again, if my grandmother who’s 84 can ask me what the hell a darknet is, and is it useful.  I’m sure you know someone who can tell you too.

  • Don’t know whether you’d think that a good thing or not, Chico – but I’ll take it as you saying it’d suck mightily, and I agree.

    One problem is that we have a full time legisature in Congress, and they’re really concerned about making sure that we get good value for our vote for them, when we really, really DON’T need them sticking their fingers into everything.  And to make sure we know we’re getting good value, they’ve got to be constantly doing SOMETHING – whether it needs to be done or not.

    Maybe especially when it doesn’t need to be done…

    Sometimes the best thing to do with a system that works pretty well is leave it the hell alone – especially when you don’t know what you’re doing in the first place.  And since most folks in Congress (not all, but most) have dedicated themselves to staying elected, there’s little brainpower left for anything useful beyond that. (See Pelosi and Waters for examples…)

    I don’t know the solution – except to figure out some way to tell the folks in Congress “Thanks for your help – we can take it from here.”

  • The “Silence Whoever we Want” act. Strictly for non-political use, of course.

  • herddog505

    I can only echo what Commander_Chico, JLawson and OTIS the hand have written:

    Congress lacks the knowledge to draft this legislation, there is no need for Congress to grant the government this power*, and it seems absolutely ripe for abuse.

    So, I confident that it will pass with huge majorities.


    (*) The government granting itself power.  Hmmm…  Kind of thought the Constitution was written specifically to PREVENT that.  But, then again, the Constitution is more than fifty years old and, anyway, was written by a bunch of mean, white slaveholders.


  • Anonymous

    Yes, as JLawson, Otis and herddog have pointed out, the insidious thing about this bill is that it is ostensibly “non-political” and serves powerful interests like Disney, but can easily be used for political censorship.

    • I’m thinking that’s more what it’d be used for than protecting copyright holders.

      But hey, the intentions are (ostensibly) good, so how can there be unforseen results?

  • This won’t pass.  There is already enough grass roots support to kill this bill.  There are a number of reps who are already looking at being unemployed by next election season.  

    It will get tabled probably, die in committee, and languish until no one is paying attention.  

    • Hope like hell you’re right. 

      • So do I, but it has been getting traction for almost a week.  Throw on top of it Dodd pushing the bill (Crony Capitalism Anyone?) and one of the majors is going to sink its teeth into it.

        • And hopefully drain it dry and toss the mangled husk aside.

          • It seems to be dying.  Trying to pass that at the same time as OWS.  Doomed from the start.

    • Anonymous

      This may not pass, but they are trying on multiple fronts – ending bandwidth neutrality, UN regulation of domain registration, getting rid of anonymity.

      • All things that aren’t necessary.  Why is there the automatic assumption by the folks pushing this bill that ‘government’ can handle those issues more effectively – or that they even need to be handled at all?

        As it is, I can register a domain in less than 5 minutes. Pick your name, put in your data, pay your fee, point the name to your hosting service, you’re good to go.  Can you imagine how much the UN would ‘simplify’ the process, and how much longer it’d take afterwards? 

        I’m sure they’d set up registry offices in major cities around the world.  Go in person, with two types of ID, fill out a form, pay your application fee, find out if the name’s available, pay a registration fee, select your hosting services from a pre-approved list, pay a pointing fee…  Nah, can’t see anything going wrong with THAT sort of mess…

        And the getting rid of anonymity? Really, really bad idea and stupidly difficult to enforce.  You can already track a poster through IP addresses – they resolve down to a very small area.  With ubiquitous wifi, it’d be harder to track someone for the purpous of nabbing them, but not by much if you pay attention to their patterns.

        Congress seems to need something to do to occupy themselves about 8-9 months out of the year.  I suggest arts and crafts designed for the 8-10 year old level, or maybe just sending them home until they’re really needed.  (And no, steroid use in ballplayers isn’t a good reason…)

        • And the getting rid of anonymity? Really, really bad idea and stupidly difficult to enforce.  You can already track a poster through IP addresses – they resolve down to a very small area.  With ubiquitous wifi, it’d be harder to track someone for the purpous of nabbing them, but not by much if you pay attention to their patterns.

          Now add on top of that millions of people using anonymous servers/presences around the world….

          I fully see techie ex-pats fleeing to places with ubiquitous bandwidth and decent weather in the next 20 years.

          • Jay

            If this were to pass, the rest of the world would not be safe from US copyright legislation.  Hell, the EU has already condemned this (though the fight with Rojadirecta continues)

        • Jay

          All things that aren’t necessary.  Why is there the automatic assumption by the folks pushing this bill that ‘government’ can handle those issues more effectively – or that they even need to be handled at all?

          Notice who supports this bill.  A hearing occurred Wednesday and I watched the entire thing.  Problem is, not ONE engineer was at the proceedings to tell people what could happen if they were to give law enforcement this power.  The engineers of the internet have already stated their hatred of the bill, along with 100 law professors (versus Floyd Abrams who was commissioned by the MPAA), the ACLU, the EFF, and practically every dominant company on the internet today.

          Honestly, who would you trust with faith based economics?  The RIAA/MPAA or the rest of the world saying don’t take away the chance that people have to normal commerce?

          Also, if you want to watch the hearing:  Link.  WARNING! It’s 3 1/2 hours long and a lot of problems are exposed from trying to rush this.  I honestly thought that no one would be interested in this type of legislation on this site.  Color me surprised to see this story.

          • You’d be surprised at what folks are interested in, Jay.  I think one of the things we’re all most desiring is to live our lives with a minimum of unnecessary interference, right?  The trick is defining ‘necessary’.  There’s always an urge by legislators to push the envelope on that, based on their need to be seen as ‘doing something’.

            And of course, the folks who want more and more restrictions don’t seem to have ever heard of the law of unintended consequences… like the ‘luxury tax’ in the early ’90s that darn near killed off two industries in the US with a 10% ‘luxury’ tax on new boats and small aircraft.  People don’t really need luxuries – and didn’t buy them new when they could buy used.  Piper and Cessna took big hits, laid off a lot of people for a long time, and barely survived.

    • Anonymous

      Hope so

  • Anonymous

    Just in time for 2012? Who’d thunk it? I suspect all sites opposed to the entrenched scum in DC will be silenced.  And major lawsuits will ensue.

    Stay the F… off the internet freedom you power hungry worthless bastards.

  • Jay

    Ah, my field of expertise!  There’s quite a few things wrong with this bill:

    – It makes streaming video into a felony if 10 people watch it.
    – The Attorney Generals have vague definitions of what they can do under this law before a site is taken down
    – Destruction of DMCA safe harbors.  Basically, if someone posts infringing content on this site, Maggie Whitton and JayTea would be held liable for damages.
    – Nancy Pelosi and Darrell Issa agree that it’s a bad piece of legislation. (Just putting that in there)
    – Lack of judicial review before sites are silenced financially.

    Thing is, this is what starved Wikileaks of 98% of its funding, and the movie and music industry decided to try this in their ongoing fight against piracy.  Before any laws are passed, they did this on a site called Ninjavideo, Bryan McCarthy, Richard O Dwyer, and even had a case against a woman for the leak of the Deadpool script.

    Ninjavideo all plead guilty with ICE issuing a warrant for the arrest of one Greek citizen (5 people total).  Their “crime” was criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy where their houses were raided before they ever had an adversarial hearing (in a year and a half).

    Bryan McCarthy is currently fighting the expedition to NY after being arrested. (His alleged crime is criminal copyright infringement for linking to sites that had streams.)

    The case from the MPAA for the Deadpool script has been dropped.

    At most, copyright infringement is a civil matter.  Seeing it abused as a censorship tool would only be exacerbated through the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate.

  • Anonymous

    I have a CPAP type machine from medicare -inside there is an GPS antennea, an sd card and an nice little ability for the feds to follow me everywhere under the guise of unsuring I use it properly.
    Snooping for terrorism is but one thing -snooping for economic efficiency is plain abuse when every day the billions they misuse, give away, turn their heads on, or make money on insider trading proves they are the problem.