Stop SOPA, it'll destroy our internet

Freedom online is in peril, and that means economic growth, innovation, and prosperity are in at the deep-end too

Illustration by Jose Mesa, based on illustrations by John Bauer
Dominique Lazanski
On 18 January 2012 10:06

Today a number of websites will protest SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and related bills in the US by shutting down their websites for 24 hours. Popular US-based websites like Wikipedia, Reddit, and BoingBoing will go offline to show opposition to the measures which broadly propose website blocking as a panacea to illegal copyright infringement.

I am sure that you have all read commentary on the issue. CNET news has up to the minute coverage of all things SOPA and Reddit, among many other examples, has bloggers covering it from a technical perspective. I won't go into all of the issues here, but it is safe to say that there is widespread opposition in the technology sector and widespread support among the content owners – both for obvious reasons.

But the SOPA protest isn’t just US based. Websites here in the UK like the campaign group Big Brother Watch and the Open Digital Policy Organisation have also taken the decision to go dark to support the anti-SOPA movement. You will see on a link to Google’s own concerns with the bill. All of this is in recognition that Internet Freedom is not just at risk in the USA, but in the UK and around the world.

We all know that countries like China and Iran use industrial sized network switches to block access to many websites and monitor traffic within their own countries. This is of concern, but we in the UK need to understand that website blocking for seemingly benign issues like the prevention of terrorism, or child protection, or copyright protection are proposals being considered right here, in this country.

The problem with bills like SOPA and every other website blocking proposal is that though they might target the problem at one level, they bring unintended consequences at another. Copyright violations, child pornography, and the selling of counterfeit drugs are real problems, but they will be a problem no matter what kind of technology exists. Blocking websites at a network architecture level will lead to security issues on the Internet; over-blocking or blocking of legal content and websites; and prevent unknown new technologies from developing by chilling innovation.

The Internet will become a shrivelled version of its former self. Meanwhile these proposals will simply drive criminals further underground, as they find new ways to keep breaking the law by circumventing website blocking (an easy thing to do).

Freedom online is in peril, and that means economic growth, innovation, and prosperity are in at the deep-end too. With the White House opposing SOPA  after this weekend, it will likely be dead in the water, but there is no doubt that other proposals will be put forth. These proposals need to be proportionate and not detrimental to the many businesses and organisations, large and small, that we need to start and thrive online in the US, UK, and internationally. Once regulation starts in any industry it is a slippery slope from minimal regulation to over-regulation. SOPA is just the latest example.

For one of the most entertaining anti-SOPA videos, see The Day the LOLcats Died

Dominique Lazanski spent over 10 years in the Internet industry in Silicon Valley and works for the Tax Payers' Alliance in the United Kingdom. She tweets at @dml

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