SOPA won’t stop the internet. It will merely force it further underground.

November 24, 20112 Comments
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When the internet was first created, it was developed initially as a military tool for communication and with the packet switching technology contained within, it was designed to be as resilient as possible, with no one single point of failure.

It’s original designers couldn’t have imagined how many peoples lives would be impacted by that decision.

Since then, its utility has evolved over time into a communication monolith that we are now evermore reliant on for information. All over the globe, there are millions of people who rely on the web for their daily fix of news, and social interaction – and it shows no signs of slowing down. With the growth of mobile, that resilience and free stream of information can now travel with us, and is available at the touch of a button.

The U.S. government is looking to change all of that.

The Protect IP Act is a set of legislation that would dramatically change the way the government and copyright holders handle potentially infringing sites. If the DoJ or the copyright holder deems a site in violation, they would have the authority to go directly to various search engines, domain registrars, and social networking sites to have the site pretty much blocked from anyone being able to access it. This, of course, prior to any trial or due process that one might imagine needing to come before such a drastic action takes place.

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is a counter legislation currently being proposed in government which takes a different (yet equally drastic) approach to combating piracy. By granting the copyright holders the ability to cut off the funding of these sites by directly contacting their advertisers and financial institutions, the RIAA or MPAA would essentially have the power to put you out of business if they deem your site in violation of copyright.

Understandably, over the last few weeks, this has seen the internet up in arms, with opposition to the Act going viral in its own right.  Help Spread the word. 

letter opposing both the House and Senate version of the bills was sent to Congress and signed by AOL, eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga.  Blogging site Tumblr created a viral awareness campaign – which generated a significant number of calls to congress from its users.

You’d be hard to pushed to be an active online social network user and not have somewhere stumbled upon the war that is currently raging on the issue.

I can understand why.This isn’t about piracy, or intellectual rights.

It’s about trying to put the internet genie back into its lamp.

The web in its current, open state is a threat to capitalist ideals, as  new socialism on the web currently rules supreme. Whilst the Whitehouse preaches net neutrality with one hand, it is making moves to squash innovation  with the other on a platform that is simply becoming too powerful. Occupy movements have further outlined the power of the web, in an economic world which is quick to blame capitalism. Frankly, it feels like the U.S. government are currently in the process of pooping their pants over the current growth and infiltration of the internet into all of our everyday lives.

The proposed move to seizes sites at the DNS level poses further threat to free speech and the internet how we know it today. I may not be an American citizen, but there will be far reaching implications of this bill, should it pass, that will affect each and every one of us.

Let us remind ourselves of Barrack Obama’s speech at Google headquarters in the run up to the elections.

The U.S. Government haven’t exactly got a grade A record when it comes to identifying problematic content on the web. Earlier this year Homeland security managed to scoop up over 84,000 innocent sites in its crackdown on illegal file sharing sites. The appropriate response from the domain owner is a rather entertaining read in its own right.

One of the web’s greatest strength lies firmly in the power of people, with their ability to band together and develop both powerful viral movements and technical solutions to the problems that such a measure would create.  Take the De-icer project for  example which was setup last year to work around sites seized a domain level.  The accompanying blog post offers a way to access the information from such a seized site. Chinese users, who typically have limited access to the web, have for some time used Google reader as an underground communication network.  The Tor Project is an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy. That’s just a few trivial examples of creative thinking which comes to the fore when people attempt to censor information.

For me, this is where I feel social networking is trending towards – private networks with limited access behind closed doors that no one sees. With Facebook et al making privacy blunders left right and centre, government threats of censorship and social networking fatigue, I for one find myself gravitating towards smaller communities which more accurately the real world with more private communication at the forefront.

Mesh networking efforts are currently being actively developed online to circumvent the possibility of a DNS blocking at the government level.  Ironically networks such as these were born out of (again) military research.

Imagine an internet that is completely free from ISP’s and free for anyone to use, and you are visualising the overall goal of projects such as Darknet  which was a direct response to SOPA and the net neutrality issues it brings. It’s not alone in that pursuit - Byzantium,  Fabfi , B.A.T.M.A.N  and Netsukuku are all projects which aim to take the middle man out of connectivity and fully open the web without walls, making DNS redundant.

What the U.S. government fail to recognise in their pursuits, is that the introduction of such a bill is somewhat akin to herding cats. The more they attempt to oppress freedom of speech, and try and control aspects of the web, the higher the flames will be fanned on projects which will result in a stronger, more open web for us all, albeit via underground projects. It’s the open source equivalent of the Streisand effect. Although it might be years before we see it take off on any scale,  the groundwork is still being laid.

If the government follow through with such a plan, I’m guessing we’ll see more underground hacker projects  -such as those above gaining further exposure, and over time, see further examples of just how resilient the web can be.

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About the Author ()

Paul is a regular 30 year old web bloke / programmer with a penchant for online marketing. This blog is a personal outlet, with an eclectic mix of articles.

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  1. The Great Wall of SOPA | Kelvin's Blog | November 29, 2011
  1. Hephaestus says:

    The old world content companies do not see that, every law they push for just speeds things along towards this vision of the future.

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