A CLAMOUR OF PROTEST is growing against a bill titled the "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act" that was introduced in the US Senate to hand over more power to the entertainment industry cartels, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) calling the bill, with considerable restraint, "flawed".
As The INQUIRER reported yesterday, the bill apparently aims to repay the entertainment industry for its millions in political campaign contributions by giving US federal prosecutors the right to take down Internet domains anywhere in the world. The bill has been met with immediate opposition, with the EFF wading in and calling it a "censorship bill that runs roughshod over freedom of speech on the Internet".
The EFF describes that through the use of "censorship court orders" domain names can be added to a blacklist. However what it says is more worrying is a second blacklist of domains, determined by the US Department of Justice without judicial review, of websites that are alleged to be "dedicated to infringing activities". It says that the bill requires that domains in the first blacklist be blocked but "strongly suggests" that those in the second list be blocked too.
While both blacklists are inimical to free speech and online commerce, it's easy to see why the EFF labels the second blacklist as even more worrying. Without judicial review, such a process could easily be abused, potentially resulting in many Internet services, not just those that allegedly break copyright laws, being suppressed and unreachable.
The group claims that the bill will have "longstanding and dangerous impact on freedom of speech", saying that it "undermines basic Internet infrastructure", referring to the manipulation of the domain name system (DNS) used to translate human readable domain names to numerical IP addresses.
Although the DNS is most visible to Internet users when they are browsing the web, many other Internet services use DNS resolution in order to bootstrap. Although the system has its foibles, it represents a core infrastructure instrumentality that is absolutely necessary for the Internet to exist and its integrity is paramount for the efficient operation of all Internet communications.
Government control of Internet infrastructure has long been a contentious issue with fears that any exertion of controls would lead to censorship. This bill represents the latest assault by large corporations and authoritarian political interests that would prefer a much more restrictive and controlled Internet.
Expect more calls for this attempt at Internet censorship to be defeated from the Internet freedom advocacy groups as the bill tries to trundle through the US political system and over Internet users' freedoms. µ