The internet and its looming censorship

Big Brother is stepping up his online surveillance! Not only will consumers be under threat from the new Internet censorship bill as their Internet service provider regulates viewing content, but large domains will be at risk from the ramifications of users accessing or committing copyright infringement. Piracy is costing the United States dearly, but the introduction of a new anti-piracy bill which gives juridical powers to Internet service providers to scrutinise consumer content and shut down Internet domains is in breach of the Fourth Amendment - protecting citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.

The government’s new bill is a grab for greater control over our Internet searches and purchases. Don’t even think of purchasing pirated films, music or other consumables. You will be placing yourself, third-party companies like PayPal and advertising companies at risk.

The bill titled Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or H.R. 3261 was introduced to the House of Representatives on Oct. 26 of this year. Harvesting empowerment, the government and copyright holders will accelerate eradication of online ‘rogue’ websites selling counterfeit merchandise and copyrighted intellectual material.  Previously rejected by the Senate, Protect IT (Pipa) Act will be re-submitted for later this year as companion legislation to the SOPA bill.

The Senate’s new SOPA bill says it is “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.”  This bill is being debated by congressmen and large organisations that believe that it will give too much power to shut down domains, and take away civil liberties from individuals.

The motion picture and music industry are two giants who are economically disadvantaged by the prevalence of pirated content. “ It’s clear the bill is designed with input from and to benefit major entertainment companies,” said Parker Higgins, activist for Electronic Frontier Foundation. He adds that it conflicts with the interests of the public for a free and open Internet.

Under the bill, internet service providers will serve a ‘technical obligation’ to the government by monitoring subscribers’ online searches. On detection of an infringement by a subscriber, the bill states, the internet service provider will be empowered to “prevent access and modify its network facilities to limit access.”

Those paying for unlimited Internet will be cheated by the new bill. The service provider can slow or ‘throttle’ the user’s connection, block a site or kick them out altogether.

A filtering system under the bill will stop Internet subscribers from accessing ‘rogue’ sites. “SOPA will not necessarily succeed in curbing infringement any further,” said Higgins, as ‘rogue’ sites can find a way of getting around filtering systems.

The new bill is open to abuse and errors. “Problems could arise from private companies or rights holders who send DCMA takedown notices in bad faith, or from the government, as when it erroneously seized 84,000 sites hosted at last February,” Higgins said.

Higgins showed concern that “technical considerations were not a factor in drafting the bill.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation, Yahoo, eBay, Google, YouTube and Twitter are all opposing the bill as they perceive this will eliminate the very essence of the Internet; sharing of online material.

The biggest group targeted by the bill are “sites that host user-generated content” which Higgins suggests are many of the most popular sites on the web.

Higgins says people should be concerned about the major effect on the security of domain names. He said “some clauses of SOPA are incompatible with DNSSEC, a set of security enhancements that have been designed to make sure the website you arrive at when you enter a URL is the correct one.”

With enough opposition, the bill can be defeated.  Opponents described the original hearing as an attempt to “grease the skids and pass the bill without fanfare,” said Higgins.  Campaigns such as American Censorship Day on Nov. 16 received enormous support from congressmen, companies and individuals opposed to the bill.

The once innocent use of copyrighted material on social networking sites and YouTube will have severe ramifications.

The new bill will empower the Attorney General to ban advertisers and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with sites in breach of copyright laws.

Unauthorised streaming of copyrighted material would be illegal. No longer will administrators of sites like YouTube and social networking sites be protected.

Individuals are encouraged to make known what sites are in violation of these new laws.  One accusation may be enough to ban an entire website from access.

Immunity will be granted to those who comply with orders served by the Attorney General in the removal of access to infringement related material or Internet sites.

The bill will blacklist websites and control Internet subscribers viewing content. We cannot be sure whether the new bill is mainly to prohibit piracy or simply to increase government surveillance of Internet users. The creation of our very own Thought Police, how wise Big Brother is, we can only hope the Ministry of Truth doesn’t get a hold of this article.