Government Threatens Internet Freedom & Privacy

 

Our stance on SOPA/PIPA: Congress is trying to pass legislation that will give it (and Hollywood) more power to control the Internet. Not only do these bills fail to address the root cause of the problem, they also stand to violate basic American rights by limiting freedom of speech. The system they wish to put in place can also pose a threat to the basic functionality and overall stability of the Internet as a whole. HostDime.com, Inc. does not support these efforts to censor what should be an open Internet. Read more about our stance on these pieces of legislation below.

 

The Federal Government, for better or worse, has always played a major role in the United States economy. Recently, however, the government has taken some major steps to try and regulate the Internet and monitor its users. These steps have come in the form of two separate Acts that are still currently in Congress. Is this type of regulation a good or bad thing? There are sure to be proponents on both sides of the argument, but many seem to think this type of legislation will have serious negative consequences.

 

PROTECT IP and SOPA

The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, or PIPA as it is commonly known, is a piece of legislation drafted by the Senate and brought to the table back in May after initially being rejected in 2010. The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, is the house bill that builds upon an earlier version from 2008 called the PRO-IP Act. Both bills are essentially two sides of the same coin and aim to limit freedom of speech in the name of protecting intellectual property on the Internet.

Previously known as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, PROTECT IP is aimed to disrupt the business models of sites which are “dedicated to infringing activities.” This is specifically true for sites that are registered outside of the U.S. that promote illegal movie distribution. Many industries have praised the bill as they believe it will significantly cut down on the number of rogue websites in the U.S. marketplace. SOPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice (as well as copyright holders) to seek court orders against any website that is accused of distributing and/or facilitating the distribution of copy written material. Proponents of SOPA say that the bill not only protects intellectual property, but also corresponding jobs and revenue. They go on to say that it is necessary to reinforce U.S. copyright laws, especially against foreign websites. Both bills have gained quite a bit of support in Washington and with production companies as well. A few notable proponents include Netflix, Rosetta Stone, Viacom, the United States Chamber of Commerce, and a slew of bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

The PROTECT IP Act has been verified by constitutional expert Floyd Abrams as constitutionally sound as it “neither compels nor prohibits free speech or communication.” Many disagree with Abrams’ conclusion. Criticism of the two bills have come from many industry leading individuals including Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Abigail Phillips of Electronic Frontier Foundation. Both believe that the legislation could severely hamper free speech on the internet. They also went on to emphasize each bill’s lack of specificity about what exactly constitutes an infringing website. Under these Acts, U.S. based search engines could theoretically be served a court order to block search results leading to specific sites. This would effectively ban entire domains which would otherwise have a majority of lawful material hosted on it. SOPA states that the steps that would be taken against an infringing domain would include the disruption of that sites online advertising revenue system, barring search engines from linking to said site, and requiring ISP’s to block access to the said site.

The opposition also calls attention to the fact that this bill gives no safe harbor to Internet providers such as web hosting companies. This means that companies hosting the site with infringing content are seen as acting in concert with whoever uploaded the copy written material on their network, completely side-stepping “presumption of innocence,” a right that should be afforded to every American. There have also been a number of technically simple workarounds that would completely nullify the goal of the bill. These include redirection services on the DNS level and even a plug-in that is directly integrated into the browser. As Schmidt points out, the “measures called for in the PROTECT IP Act are overly simple solutions to a complex problem…”

 

Protecting Children from Internet Pornography Act

A largely mislabeled bill, this Act was intentionally named by conservative proponents in order to make it more difficult to reject in Congress. One might imagine, as the name implies, that this bill has outlined a clear and concise way to catch and/or prevent online child pornography. Does it achieve this goal? Many say no, and call the legislative movement an “ISP snooping bill.”

They may have a point. After all, the bill has less to do with actively perusing online child pornographers and more do to with actively tracking every American on the internet.  The Act would mandate commercial Internet providers to securely maintain network access logs of their customers for up to 18 months. A proposed amendment to the bill, which was quickly rejected, suggested that this information only include an access log of users IP addresses. Instead, the bill states statistics such as the names of customers, home addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, IP addresses, and personal browsing history should be retained by the commercial internet provider for up to a year.

Will this type of data mining help track individuals who surf the Internet? Of course it will, but not everyone who surfs the internet is a potential child pornographer. Kevin Bankston, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, voiced his opinion on the matter.

“The data retention mandate in this bill would treat every Internet user like a criminal and threaten the online privacy and free speech rights of every American,” Bankston said.

What’s worse is that the government doesn’t have to verify any wrong doing in order to subpoena said records. All they have to do is ask for them. Apparently due process is a thing of the past. Your Internet history is fair game to any governmental organization that has an interest in it.

Let’s assume for a second that this bill passes and does what it is intended to do. Who is going to have to pay for the IT infrastructure necessary to keep all of these records? Implementing such data mining techniques and subsequent storage would not come cheap and could put smaller Internet providers out of business altogether. The most troubling part is how easy this whole process can be avoided. Since the bill only dictates that commercial Internet providers are responsible for recording customer traffic, an offender need only access the Internet from a public location such as a coffee house or library in order to browse the web anonymously.

 

How to get involved…

These legislative actions present problems that can have serious and far reaching consequences. For starters, the privacy and freedom of the Internet are at stake for all Americans. As if the privacy of America isn’t under enough threat (see: Patriot Act), we must now deal with the fact that our personal browsing history, the last vestige of personal information that should remain our own, is now up for grabs. Secondly, these bills (along with the others that are still in Congress) make web hosting in the U.S. much less attractive. The web hosting industry, (a crucial component of the 45 billion dollar Global Internet Infrastructure market) is composed largely of small to medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs that originate from within and from outside U.S. borders. Once the incentive of cheap and reliable U.S. based hosting gives way to the importance of privacy and accountability, these entrepreneurs will move elsewhere, taking their business along with them.

Instead of simply allowing this to happen, there are a few things that one can do to call attention to these broad sweeping, and largerly ineffective, legislative bills. The Save Hosting Coalition, an advocacy group for independent and corporate web hosting companies, asks the public to write their Congressperson denouncing these bills. The group also holds periodic meetings at prominent web hosting events and encourages attendance. You can find their website and social media outlets here: http://savehosting.org

In order to combat these trying bills, it is imperative that the public stay abreast of the latest in what is going on in regards to Internet freedom. The government may be making moves to limit free speech and infringe on personal privacy, but as citizens we still have a voice and an option to denounce unconstitutionally sound legislative actions such as these.

 

Edit (1/18/2012): Sites that have voluntarily chose to blackout today have included simple ways to either contact your local congressmen or sign a petition denouncing these bills. A list of these sites can be found below:

http://www.google.com/

http://www.reddit.com/

http://imgur.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

http://www.mozilla.org/

http://wordpress.com/

 

Let us know your thoughts on the subject by leaving us a comment on our Facebook Page, sharing your opinion below, or tweeting us at @HostDime

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