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:


the great irony of informationalism

On May 29, 2009, Obama announced his intention to appoint a “cyber czar” to coordinate cybersecurity policy for private and government computer networks in the US. Obama also argued the importance of educating the public about cybersecurity while highlighting the dialectical reality of cyberspace:

Cyberspace is real and so are the risks that come with it. It is the great irony of our information age [that] the very technologies that empower us to create and to build also empower those who would disrupt and destroy…

It’s encouraging to hear Obama talk about education as a necessary component of cybersecurity. If an actual education initiative does emerge from this, I hope it will focus on both the empowering and threatening aspects of cyberspace.

Obama also noted that national cyber security policy would not entail the surveillance of Internet traffic or private networks, citing privacy concerns and a committment to net neutrality. So far, so good…

please forward to everyone you know

A recent story by the Politico describes a smear campaign which alleges Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim. This campaign is remarkably similar to one waged against John McCain, yet the medium through which the smear is being propagated has changed – this time the smear is originating in spam email.

Obama - Not a muslim (1)

During the 2000 presidential primary, John McCain was the subject of an effective smear campaign in South Carolina. After having beat George Bush in the New Hampshire primary, the South Carolina primary was considered a must win for Bush. McCain went on to lose in South Carolina and Bush …

Richard Davis, McCain’s former campaign manager, has attributed this loss to an anonymous smear campaign which alleged McCain had an illegitimate interracial child (he has an adopted Bangladeshi daughter…). Davis describes the anatomy of this smear in a Boston Globe Op-Ed:

Anonymous opponents used “push polling” to suggest that McCain’s Bangladeshi born daughter was his own, illegitimate black child. In push polling, a voter gets a call, ostensibly from a polling company, asking which candidate the voter supports. In this case, if the “pollster” determined that the person was a McCain supporter, he made statements designed to create doubt about the senator.

The smear then transferred from one medium to another, as a prominent Professor at Bob Jones University emailed to his “fellow South Carolinians” warning of McCain’s alleged sin. The smear then jumped to another medium as this email blast prompted recognition from CNN who interviewed the professor – dedicating national TV time to McCain’s alleged “illegitimate interracial child.” Of course this smear campaign wasn’t the first of its kind and it certainly wasn’t the last.

Instead of push-polling, the smear campaign against Obama (again taking place in South Carolina…) is being advanced through spam – through anonymous, untraceable emails. According to the Politico, the email makes doubt-inducing statements:

“Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background,” warns an e-mail titled “Who Is Barack Obama,” that was circulating in South Carolina political circles this summer and sent to Politico by a South Carolina Democrat.

The email ends with:

“Please forward to everyone you know”

The article goes on to note that “barack obama muslim” is now the 3rd most popular Google search for Obama. It looks like this smear is already taking on a life of its own as it self-legitimizes though mass self-communication – the more its discussed in media space, the more presence it achieves. It will be interesting to trace the anatomy of this smear.