The COICA bill, a piece of legislation that would eliminate a good deal of due process and free speech guarantees on the internet, is being succeeded by a new bill, the PROTECT IP Act. And yes, that’s an acronym. It stands for “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property” — the most transparent attempt to whitewash a bill I’ve seen since PATRIOT.
The act itself, rather than responding to concerns that it placed too much burden on the accused and added easily abusable controls on internet content, goes even further in allowing instant lockdown of “infringing” sites. Part of that is the ability of not just the government, but private entities such as rightsholders, to directly accuse a site and get it taken down with nothing more than a court’s approval.
Even in a perfect world (such as the one obviously envisioned by this bill’s creators), there would be problems. The fact that a private rightsholder can bring an action against a site via a court, and the injunction can be issued without any notification of the site is extremely disturbing. It’s very much a shoot first, ask question later type setup, which is harmful everywhere, especially where there should be a presumption of innocence.
It also requires that search engines censor their results, something I seriously doubt is going to happen in a hurry for every Joe Rightsholder who says this or that site is infringing their rights.
TechDirt has some more commentary, as well as the full text of the bill, if you’re interested. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this poor excuse for a law in the next few months. Copyright legislation is a real need, but this isn’t the right approach. This is legislation for the status quo, by the status quo, interested only in streamlining their legal process.
COICA, the bill that made waves last week as an affront to free speech and due process rights, was recently postponed, to the net’s great relief. While it seems to have been the kind of inflammatory election-year FUD bill we see very often in this country, it brought up several issues that are worth taking action on.
The bill is ostensibly to “combat online infringement, and for other purposes,” but broadly speaking, it would grant “root access” to one of the fundamental technologies running the web: DNS. Here’s the question: if such an important technology could come so easily within a breath of being in the clutches of politicians and lobbyists, why do we rely so much upon it?
It’s a miracle that the web is as open as it is. Although we have many legitimate issues with packet prioritization, surveillance by ISPs, and the boundaries of free speech, the fact is that our internet is insanely open when you consider how it might have been with just a little nudge in another direction early on. Such nudges have actually taken place, and have had their effects: various sites and services have been shut down with huge fines and penalties, and laws have been established for the prompt takedown of copyrighted content (already lacking due process, I might add).
But the result of these nudges is always decentralization. Bruce Lee would have been proud. They can’t hurt what they can’t hit, after all, and so it was that ideas like Bittorrent and others arose. While their overwhelming use for illegal file sharing says something of mankind’s nature, these ways of transferring data are secure and secret.
I can transfer a file directly to another IP address based on peer to peer discovery. So why do I have to contact a private, third-party company for information on where a website lies? Centralized DNS is ripe for replacement, or perhaps I should say disruption.
Now, I’m no IT guy, so I’m probably way off on some of these things, but it seems to me that the principles of Bittorrent, and peer discovery in general, should be applicable to locating and serving websites. We shouldn’t be forced to locate our data, servers, DNS, etc., in foreign countries just to ensure access. I doubt the government is likely to decide our blog is worth blocking, but it would be a comfort to know that should the worst happen (or something more prosaic, like our DNS servers being hacked), there is a backup protocol for establishing a chain of communication between client and server.
It’s more than simply anonymizing access (like TOR or Haystack), too, since the block on a website or server wouldn’t necessarily be based on where you’re trying to access it from. And more serious measures, like isolating the offending site by blacklisting it on nearby nodes, would be more difficult to circumvent — but let’s be honest, if things reach that level of Gibson-esque cyber-espionage, things may require something more than a technical workaround.
I have no doubt that there are already projects in development for this purpose, perhaps even protocols in place for such a thing. But despite having lived and worked on the net for years, I haven’t the slightest clue where to look, who to donate to, what to enable or disable, and so on. Changes like this one tend to be bottom-up, like the adoption of Bittorrent and ad blockers. What do you suggest? Where do we go from here?