Friday, January 13, 2012

Countdown to SOPA

The debate on the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate is getting closer to coming for a vote.  As much as we hear about the partisan wars in Washington these days, the debate over protecting intellectual property rights vs defending the freedom of the Internet transcends political parties and even ideological bounds.  Those backing the entertainment industry (i.e. the music and movie industries) include liberal Democrats such as the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and head of the Democratic National Committee Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and conservatives like Rep. Pete King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and Tea Party favorite Sen. Mark Rubio.  Those backing the technology sector includes Tea Party favorites Sen. Rand Paul and failed presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann and liberal Democrats House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee.  Looking at that collection of names any follower of U.S. politics knows that Internet legislation makes strange bedfellows.

I am against the measures because of my concerns about Internet security.  Stewart Baker, the first Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security, also blogs at The Volokh Conspiracy and offered up how SOPA will greatly damage efforts to implement DNSSEC.  DNSSEC is an authentication method developers could implement in browsers or browser plug-ins to help defeat cyber attacks by giving each website a signed credential that must be shown to the browser by the domain name system server before the connection can be completed.  Mr. Baker explains:
"Unfortunately, the things a browser does to bypass a criminal site will also defeat SOPA’s scheme for blocking pirate sites.  SOPA envisions the AG telling ISPs to block the address of www.piracy.com.  So the browsers get no information about www.piracy.com from the ISP’s DNS server. Faced with silence from that server, the browser will go into fraud-prevention mode, casting about to find another DNS server that can give it the address.  Eventually, it will find a server in, say, Canada.  Free from the Attorney’ General’s jurisdiction, the server will provide a signed address for piracy.com, and the browser will take its user to the authenticated site.
"That’s what the browser should do if it’s dealing with a hijacked DNS server.  But browser code can’t tell the Attorney General from a hijacker, so it will end up treating them both the same. And from the AG’s point of view, the browser’s efforts to find an authoritative DNS server will look like a deliberate effort to evade his blocking order.
"The latest version of SOPA will feed that view.  It allows the AG to sue 'any entity that knowingly and willfully provides …a product … designed by such entity or by another in concert with such entity for the circumvention or bypassing of' the AG’s blocking orders.
"It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this provision is aimed squarely at the browser companies. Browsers implementing DNSSEC will have to circumvent and bypass criminal blocking, and in the process, they will also circumvent and bypass SOPA orders. The new bill allows the AG to sue the browsers if he decides he cares more about enforcing his blocking orders than about the security risks faced by Internet users. Indeed, the opaque language about 'another in concert with such entity' makes perfect sense in the context of browser extensions.  It allows the AG to sue not just browsers but also add-ons with this feature."
An event occurred yesterday that gives an Eve Online angle to the fight.   Reddit, the home of TEST Alliance Please Ignore, has gone on the warpath against SOPA and PIPA and claimed another scalp in the form of the Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin.  Reddit had already led a boycott that made GoDaddy.com reverse its stance on SOPA and had begun Operation Pull Ryan.  After Ryan's opponent, Democrat Rob Zerban, raised $15,000 in 48 hours, Ryan issued a statement opposing SOPA.

On Wednesday 18 January the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will conduct hearings on issues related on SOPA and PIPA.  Chairman Darrell Issa (R. CA), an opponent of SOPA, will bring opponents of the measure like Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, the above quoted Stewart Baker, venture capitalist Brad Burnham, a partner at Union Square Ventures and Michael Macleod-Ball, the American Civil Liberties' first amendment counsel.

For those wanting to know more about SOPA and PIPA, here are some links to informative articles opposing the measures.  Sorry, but I don't feel like being "fair and balanced".

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