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Understanding the Architectures of SOPA & PIPA

Two controversial pieces of legislation that would significantly alter the architecture of the internet are currently being debated in congress: the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. The following is a round up of some sources I’ve found helpful in trying to understand the effect that these pieces of legislation would have on the informational architecture of the internet.

The first comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation who recently published an open letter to congress from 83 prominent internet engineers and architects. The letter is short and worth a full read, but here is the key passage (emphasis mine):

If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure. Regardless of recent amendments to SOPA, both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences. In exchange for this, such legislation would engender censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties’ right and ability to communicate and express themselves online.

The second is Ars Technica’s summary of a Consumer Electronics Show panel that debated both SOPA and the recently introduced OPEN Act, an alternative piece of legislation supported by notable critics of SOPA (emphasis mine):

[Ryan] Clough [legislative counsel for the Office of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)] said SOPA and Protect-IP create an architecture for Internet censorship. “Once we create this system, there is no way it will be contained to copyright infringement,” he said. Further, he argued “this bill will make it easier for China to keep imposing the types of controls on the Internet that it does and to keep resisting international pressure against it.”

The third is a piece Julian Sanchez wrote for the Cato Institute. Sanchez discusses the link between information architecture and free speech in order to argue that SOPA and PIPA would constitute a new legal and technological architecture of censorship (emphasis mine):

SOPA is a 70 page statute establishing a detailed legal process by which the Justice Department can initiate blocking of supposed pirate domains by ISPs and search engines, and by which private parties can seek orders requiring payment processors and ad networks to sever tie.

If SOPA passes, thousands of commercial ISPs, colleges, small businesses, nonprofits, and other entities that maintain domain servers are going to have to reconfigure their networks, potentially at substantial cost, in order to easily comply with the new law.

… These twin architectures will obliterate major institutional barriers to Internet censorship generally, not just censorship for antipiracy purposes.

The fourth is the Obama Administration’s response to SOPA/PIPA, written by Victoria Espinel (IP Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget), Aneesh Chopra (U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President and Associate Director for Technology at the Office of Science and Technology Policy), and Howard Schmidt (Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff) (emphasis theirs):

We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.

And finally – A short video, from a group called Fight for the Future, illustrating what PIPA entails and the chilling effect it would have on the internet:

 

Growing Up Policed Vimeo Channel

The official Growing Up Policed Vimeo Channel is now live! This channel includes video of presentations, panels, and discussions from the Growing Up Policed: Surveilling Racialized Sexualities Mini-Conference that took place at both the University of Oregon and the CUNY Graduate Center on 12/01/2011.

Incited by the case of the felony conviction of a young woman of color for sexting with her girlfriend in Oregon and participatory research on criminalization among 1,100 young people in New York City, the mini-conference focused on the nexus of youth, technology, law enforcement, and constructions of racialized sexuality. Using a broad definition of “policing” that extends across jails, schools, subways, and cyberspace, the conference examined the tools that parents, professionals, and others use to watch over, intervene with, and attempt to “correct” youth [more info: opencuny.org/growinguppoliced].

Conference Opening by Michelle Fine:

Presentations, Panels, and Discussions:

British Foreign Secretary On E-Commerce and Blurred Geographies

From British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s 10/18/2011 guest editorial in Spiegel :

Web-based industry has already become a critical part of our economies. The UK’s industry is already worth £100 billion, accounting for 8% of our total GDP, and is forecast to grow at 10 percent over the next four years. Globally, e-commerce sees $8 trillion change hands each year …

Our reliance on cyber blurs geographical boundaries, breaks down traditional cultural and religious divides, brings families and friends closer together and enables contact between those who share common interests or concerns.

Government Hypocrisy: Protect Intellectual Property, Collect Personal Data

Mike German, ACLU policy counsel and former FBI agent, was recently on Reason.tv discussing domestic surveillance in post-9/11 America. German covers the U.S. government’s growing interest in collecting personal data, the development of data fusion centers, and the erosion of existing privacy protections.

Speaking specifically about the 4th Amendment, Brown explains:

The way the 4th Amendment protections work with your personal papers, requires probable cause and a warrant before the government can search your desk to look through your papers. Unfortunately, now most of our personal papers are kept on 3rd party servers. It’s our email that’s stored remotely. Every thought that we have we hit the search engines to find out more about the subject we’re thinking bout. All that gets recorded by 3rd parties, and that information doesn’t have the same 4th Amendment protections.

The hypocrisy is extraordinary. For decades the U.S. government has extended and enhanced intellectual property protections. The rationale has been that the laws governing property ownership in the physical environment must also apply in the digital environment. Downloading a Beatles album from Pirate Bay is treated the same as shoplifting a Beatles album from Walmart. But, when it comes to personal property in the digital environment (i.e. your data) we see an erosion of what little protections existed in the physical environment. In short: protect intellectual property, collect personal data.

Newspaper CEO Finally Agrees Copyright Trolling Was a Dumb Idea

About a year ago MediaNews Group, publisher of 40 newspapers, signed a deal with Righthaven, a law firm. The deal allowed Righthaven to file copyright infringement lawsuits on MediaNews Group’s behalf in exchange for 50% of any settlement/verdict. Now, MediaNews Group has decided to part ways with Righthaven and John Paton, the chief executive of MediaNews Group, is quoted in Wired as saying:

“The issues about copyright are real … But the idea that you would hire someone on an — essentially — success fee to run around and sue people at will who may or may not have infringed as a way of protecting yourself … does not reflect how news is created and disseminated in the modern world … I come from the idea that it was a dumb idea from the start.” (emphasis added)

The idea that one could monetize news content (or any other content) by restricting its circulation and suing individual bloggers was always a dubious one. The RIAA and many other organizations that took this approach previously now appear to be abandoning it. And, as the Wired article also notes, Righthaven has lost a string of its lawsuits over the question of whether it even has the right to sue over copyright infringement when they are not the actual copyright holder.

Cowen and Smith on Geoeconomics

From “After Geopolitics? From the Geopolitical Social to Geoeconomics,” pp25-40:

A geoeconomic conception of security underlines conflicts between the logics of territorial states and global economic flows, the proliferation of non-state and private actors entangled in security, and the recasting of citizenship and social forms.

… Whatever else it implies, geoeconomics has come to provide a new disciplining architecture replacing the geopolitical mechanisms of colonial administration.

Senator Wyden on the Patriot Act, FISA, and the Knowledge Gap

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) of the Senate Intelligence Committee recently discussed the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments on Countdown with Kieth Olbermann.

Wyden made two notable observations:

  1. On the Patriot Act: “There is growing gap between what Americans believe the laws actually is, and the secret interpretation.”
  2. On the FISA Amendments: “This law was intended to deal with foreigners … and I’m concerned about the possibility … of innocent Americans having their communications swept up under it.”
What people think these laws do, what these laws technically do, and how these laws are being interpreted and enacted behind closed doors, are three entirely different things.
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