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Decency, Piracy and Protection

SOPA Issue

Back in the day, the United States of America developed the ARPANET which later would become the Internet. Most of the governing institutions of the Internet are also based on American soil. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) are just two examples. Please take note that when we say ‘governing the Internet’ we mean in technical terms. The ICANN for example decides on which webadress endings – generic Top Level Domains (#gTLD) – such as .com or .org can be used on the Internet (#thedotxxxdispute).

While having these governing institutions on your soil has already some legal advantages, the United States government has always been keen on maintaining at least some degree of control over the Internet and its data traffic (#echelon). It all started back in 1996 with the Communication Decency Act (CDA). ‘Passed by Congress on February 1, 1996, and signed by President Bill Clinton on February 8, 1996, the CDA imposed criminal sanctions on anyone who knowingly (A) uses an interactive computer service to send to a specific person or persons under 18 years of age, or (B) uses any interactive computer service to display in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age, any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs’ ( Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of constitutional rights and civil liberty and struck down the CDA. CDA has been followed by the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) (#wetryaslongasittakes).

I discuss this topic today because three bills are currently pending in the American legislative body, which basically have the same aim, but are referred to under different acronyms. Currently pending are the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the Protect-IP Act (PIPA) and the Protecting Children from Internet Pornography Act (maybe PCIPA?). While they have a different wording and are contentwise not the complete same proposals, their aim is similar: more control over the Internet. It is noteworthy how the titles of the acts changed over time. They tried it nicely with decency, shifted to protection, turned offensive by calling it ‘piracy’ and then went back to protection.

Who can possibly vote against decency (towards children)? Well, if your society is based on the constitutional right to free speech, you might have a problem getting it through the legislative. After the terrorist attacks that hit the United States (#9/11) it is not surprising that piracy and protection are the catch phrases of the day. I am actually glad that after the ‘Patriot Act’ enabled law enforcement to put people to remote places without any rights or trial (#guantanamo), they did not call one of those bills ‘Fighting Cyber Terrorism Act (FCTA). That would be too much. Or maybe it is still to come?

Why are so many cyberpunks, Internet addicts, nerds and geeks opposing those bills? Clearly because they are all minors who want to download copyrighted pornography material (#irony). it one way or the other, all those bills aim to impose censorship or control over the Internet. The power would then rest in the hands of a generic law enforcement agency. Why do I call it censorship when all Internet Service Providers (ISP) have to block certain website that are blacklisted by that law enforcement agency? Assuming that the websites do contain things such as children pornography.

Here is the catch. Blacklists have already been introduced in some European countries. We know that because they have been leaked by the above mentioned cyberpunks. The enforcing agencies argue that if the websites on that list would become public, people would try to access these websites. Because there are ways to circumvent this kind of censorship, these people would succeed. The agency then argues that making the list public would only get more people drawn to those sides.

1. People who want to get this material know where it is and also how to get there – even with censorship.
2. If the list is not public, those in charge can put ANY website on this list – preferrably political opposition of the current administration.
3. The person who is running a website with illegal contain will notice when he cannot reach it anymore and try to destroy evidence and escape as fast as possible.
4. Censoring these websites makes the agencies do less. In their understanding they have already done something to deal with them by putting them on a blacklist. The real take-down of the website and clamp-down on the resposible persons might not happen at all anymore.

So, while there is a lot of protest – mainly against SOPA and PIPA – the take-down of one of the biggest filehoster took place a couple of days ago. Megaupload’s headquarters was raided with compliments of the FBI, servers taken as evidence and the managment arrested. While Megaupload claims that the majority of the files hosted were legal files, American law enforcement saw it differently. While the head of Megaupload is not the most sympathetic person in the world (#euphemism), the action as such is frightening. The law enforcement agencies obviously do not need SOPA to pass in order to take-down a webhoster and gets his head arrested in New Zealand.

The underaged cyberpunks are not fighting for their access to illegal downloads on the Megaupload servers. Today it is Megaupload but what will it be tomorrow? All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Do something (#now).

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