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[ NNSquad ] Why SOPA Censorship Is Actually Aimed at Google

               Why SOPA Censorship Is Actually Aimed at Google


As I've discussed very recently in "Congress Declares War on the
Global Internet - Internet Replies 'Bring It On!'" 
( http://j.mp/tTrE1l [Lauren's Blog] ) and "The Coming Fascist Internet"
( http://j.mp/uc70Lp [Lauren's Blog] ), there are many reasons to hate
and fear Congress' efforts to censor and control the Internet via SOPA
(Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).

It obvious how such powers -- focused on the U.S. using unilateral
leverage over the Domain Name System (DNS) to impose its views of
"appropriate" Web materials globally -- would be abused, and expanded
over time.  If it's appropriate to shut down sites to protect the
profits of Disney or Universal, every group concerned about items on
the Net that they consider to be objectionable or dangerous -- or even
just "inappropriate for children -- will be demanding Congress grant
them similar Web censorship rights.  "After all," they'll say, "aren't
our children at least as important as entertainment industry profits?"

Notably, the anti-circumvention criminalization measures in SOPA would
appear to mandate that any method of finding Web sites that is not
subject to government control could be considered illicit.

And what is the main way that most people actually do find Web sites
these days?

Most of us depend less and less on the confusing and often misleading
mess of domain names.  Without a doubt, search engines are the primary
site discovery mechanism now, with Google obviously leading that pack.

SOPA is cognizant of this fact, by requiring search engines to remove
sites from search results essentially on demand when sites have been
accused of being primarily involved in "piracy"(not restricted only to
sites that actually distribute pirated materials, but also sites that
link to such items).

A simple thought experiment reveals why SOPA's model will fail to
control piracy as its proponents wish, and why calls for its vast
expansion -- primarily aimed at censoring Google -- can be

SOPA, PIPA, et al. are generally focused currently on the concept of
sites that are "centralized" repositories of "pirated" data, and sites
that specialize in providing links and other information that aid
discovery of those primary sources.

These legislative efforts assume that by "disappearing" such sites
from the DNS and search engines, users will be unable to find the
materials of interest, even if the primary repositories are operating
in foreign jurisdictions not under direct U.S. control.

So let's think about this.  Imagine that there are indeed a number of
(possibly stable, possibly frequently moved) central sites that store
large numbers of "pirated" files, and known sites that specialize in
linking to those downloading sites (perhaps torrent-related, perhaps
not).  The U.S. knows where these sites are, and uses SOPA powers to
remove them all from the DNS, and to order Google (plus other search
engines under U.S. jurisdiction) to remove these sites from their
search results.

But the repository sites in this example aren't actually shut down,
only their names and search results have been liquidated.

If you could find these repository sites, you could still access the
files, through use of IP addresses rather than domain names.

Now let's imagine that a large number of sites unrelated to "pirated"
files, but sympathetic to free speech concerns, decided that they'd
each list (on a sort of "by the way" basis) just a few -- perhaps even
one each -- IP address links to "forbidden" material at those
repositories (perhaps in a tiny font at the bottom of their home
pages) open to Google and other search engine spidering.

What do we now have?  It would seem we have a vast, distributed index
that could be used to access censored materials despite government DNS
takedown orders and the removal of primary linking sites from search
results (also under government order).

Under this model, if you go to your favorite search engine looking for
a particular movie (or whatever censored materials are of interest),
you'll still likely find lots of results that lead to those forbidden
repositories, even though no sites acting primarily to distribute
those links are involved!

The reaction of censorship proponents would seem predictable -- they
would demand that Google and other search engines remove pages/sites
from search results even if there's a single mention of a link leading
to "offending" material, regardless of the other data on those pages
and sites.

In other words, proponents would demand a vast expansion of site
censorship with enormous collateral effects, by moving from a
"primarily engaged in" to a "merest mention of" approach -- with
Google and other search engines the focus of their demands.

Combine this scenario with the likely expansion of topics where
censorship will be demanded, plus the ability of sites to rapidly
alter their configurations to fight back against such demands, and we
have all of the necessary components for Internet freedom of speech
wars without end.

This demonstrates that search engines are crucial agents toward
helping to assure free speech on the Net, and so will be under
constant attack by those forces who wish to restrict speech in ever
more numerous ways.

It's crucial to push back on censorship attempts -- even those wrapped
in the flag of ostensibly laudable motives -- and particularly when
governments endeavor to convert search sites into customized
censorship engines.

Anyone who publicly joins this battle for Internet free speech is
likely to be falsely branded as a supporter of piracy and evil.  But
in fact, censorship, especially government ordered censorship, is an
ultimate evil unto itself, and restrictions on speech can normally
only be reasonably justified in extreme and imminent cases of public
safety -- and even then, history shows us that the "public safety"
excuse has often been abused by governments around the world.

Ultimately, the way to make the world better is with more reality,
more information, more knowledge.  Unmuzzled truth will almost always
triumph over evil in the long run.  That's why so many special
interests try to keep that muzzle firmly in place.

And that's why fighting for free speech on the Internet is so very
important for us all.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org 
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com 
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com 
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com