Thursday, January 19, 2012

Response to US Chamber of Commerce Support of SOPA / PIPA

Recently I received an email that was forwarded to me from the US Chamber of Commerce. In the email, Mr Engstrom, Senior Vice President & National Political Director of the Chamber, expressed his support of the SOPA and PIPA bills currently being considered in Congress. Below is my response to his letter:


Dear Mr Engstrom,

I am writing you today concerning your recent email that was forwarded to me concerning the Protect IP act. In your email, you mentioned that Wikipedia and Google went darks because they opposed preventing online piracy. That simple isn’t true and I am ashamed you would publish that idea with your signature attached to your comments.

Further, you went on to say that Google and Wikipedia are fighting against “ANY” regulation over the Internet. Once again, a blatant lie.  You also mention that the bills drafted in Congress are very narrow, carefully tailed pieces of legislation. This too is incorrect.

So let me break down a few facts you seem to have overlooked.

1)      The protests by Google, Wikipedia, and over 18,000 other websites and companies yesterday were protesting the threat to our free speech across the Internet and because SOPA and PIPA undermine the openness and free exchange of information at the heart of the Internet. I understand that the AFL-CIO’s Paul Almeida stated that free speech was not a relevant consideration, but as a Senior Vice President and National Political Director of the US Chamber of Commerce, I expected more from you and the Chamber. Free Speech is critical to the thousands of businesses your organization represents. Threats to Free Speech are threats to business!!

2)      Wikipedia, Google, and many others already have policies and practices in place where victims of fraud or piracy can make requests to have listings and illegal content removed. These have been used successfully for many years and are common practice for the search engines, as well as all US websites. These policies are part of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

With the passing of these bills, “safe harbor” provisions would be bypassed. The bills place the responsibility for detecting and policing infringement onto the respective website themselves, regardless of how big or how small a website might be. This means that all business websites will be required to regular police their websites to check user comments for posting and/or linking to illegal activity. And let’s not even go into the fact that many business owners would not know what might be illegal in the first place, but they would still be responsible for it nonetheless.

3)      One other major objection to both SOPA and PIPA is an objection to the Domain Name System (DNS) blocking and redirection.  I notice you skip over most of this in your video release, but this is one of the core objections to many of the participants in today’s protest. The bill, if passed in its current form would fracture the DNS system and allow for a reversal in ongoing efforts to secure the Internet. Ironically, even current supporters of both SOPA and PIPA are in agreement and have expressed a potential willingness to remove the DNS filtering provision from the bill. In fact, some have proposed a complete rewrite of the bill in the form of the OPEN Act.

Due to the nature of the potential DNS blocking and redirection, if implemented in its current form, multiple software tools already exist and more have been released to bypass the potential changes. One plugin, now available on Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer, has already been downloaded by over 50,000 users. The plugin would allow users to do DNS lookups through foreign DNS servers so users can continue to go to blocked websites. So far the downloads that have taken place have been minimal. They will continue to grow if DNS blocking remains part of these bills. These numbers exclude the thousands of proxies and other tools already out there that have been used for years. What good will it do to weaken the security and resilience of the Internet and increase burdens on businesses, if the blocked website can be circumvented with ease?

The assumption that it is the government making the case for DNS blocking and so the services of legitimate companies will not be affected is not accurate either. In fact, in attempting to seize a recent child porn domain name, ICE accidentally took down an extra 84,000 sites and redirected them to a banner claiming that they had been busted as part of a child porn investigation. This is just one example of failed DNS blocking and intrusion on legitimate business.

By the way, one example of a company who supports DNS blocking is China. Others include Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Few countries in the world use DNS blocking on a regular basis, such as what this bill provides. Are these the types of companies we want to be lumped together with??

4)      I would also point out that although the bills target foreign website, the remedies and enforcement would extend to domestic websites as well. For example, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook could be affected and served a court order to shut down due to someone uploading a rogue video even though they may have legitimate content hosted elsewhere. The language in the bill is not specific enough about what constitutes an infringing web site and respective remedies for different types of infringement. It is an all or nothing deal.

5)      In your video and the website, you mentioned that the bills will give law enforcement the tools they need in a digital age to deal with rogue sites. Besides the exception that DNS blocking would not work, I want to point out that the bills due not require a federal courts ruling.  The bills call for an ex parte proceeding – proceeding at which only one side, typically the prosecutor or the accuser, need be present.  The allegedly infringing site need not be present, nor even made aware that the action was pending. I have serious concerns about due process in actions of this nature. There are already concerns of abuse in our judicial system, why do we want to support any types of bill that could deprive a person of property without a fair hearing and a reasonable opportunity to be heard?

What is worse in my mind is that for an organization that is supposed to be helping protect businesses and helping them to succeed, you and US Chamber of Commerce sure have a funny way of showing us your support. Especially when you are trying to suppress our Freedom of Speech, burden us with further business requirements, and diverting our time away from our business to look for rogue content. By the way, since the responsibility to look for the rogue content would now be mine to look for, who is going to tell me what the rogue content might look like? Perhaps the US Chamber of Commerce?

For that matter, why any organization supports anything that is Anti-Freedom of Speech is unimaginable to me. That alone should have you reconsider the support of these bills.

Please take a deep look at what you are endorsing and revoke your support for PIPA and SOPA. I would hate to have to reconsider my business support and membership to the various Chapters of the Chamber of Commerce we currently belong to.

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