As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2011 and discussing where we are in the fight for a free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) are the House and Senate version of a proposed law that would allow the U.S. Attorney General to create blacklists of websites to censor, cut off from funding, or remove from search engine indexes. Although the current bills are reworked versions of legislation proposed in 2010 (the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, or COICA), 2011 has been a true milestone in the fight against them.
PIPA was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee in May of this year, and quickly passed through markup. Senator Ron Wyden, a Congressional leader on free speech issues and a recipient of a 2011 EFF Pioneer Award, put a hold on the bill, which prevented it from reaching the floor this year.
SOPA arrived in late October, and magnified concerns over the blacklist bills. Despite explosive opposition from a broad (and still growing) group of concerned engineers, business owners, Internet users and developers, student groups, legal scholars, and advocacy organizations, the House Judiciary Committee scheduled only a single hearing, stacked in favor of the bill.
A manager’s amendment introduced in December, just days before the scheduled markup, patched over some of the most egregious problems, but didn’t go far enough. Though some members of the Committee — including Chairman Lamar Smith, who also wrote the bill — seemed bent on pushing SOPA through, ultimately the concerns from the public proved overwhelming. In response to a motion for more expert testimony, Chairman Smith suspended the markup.
What’s so bad about these bills, that provokes millions of letters into Congress? The problems are myriad. After all, these bills violate the Constitution, undermine your free speech, and threaten whistleblowers and human rights. The legislators don’t understand how the bills would modify the architecture of the Internet, but they won’t listen to the opposition of the architects who designed the network itself. Frankly, these bills are so bad they can’t be fixed: Internet blacklist bills must be killed.
Some of the opponents of the bill in Congress, including Senator Wyden and Representative Darrell Issa, have put together an alternate proposal, called the Open Act. This bill, though not perfect, represents a major improvement over the blacklist bills. Better, the sponsors encourage public feedback and commentary from interested parties — a far cry from the secretive drafting process of SOPA and PIPA.
Senator Harry Reid has promised to bring PIPA back to the floor of the Senate when they resume in January, and Senator Wyden has threatened to filibuster the bill, and will read the names of Americans who oppose it. SOPA is likely to return to markup in late January.
In the meantime, Senators and Representatives need to hear your voice speaking out against this bill. If you haven’t yet, take our action alert now to e-mail your blacklist bill opposition to your legislators. We’ve also provided a toolkit for activism with more suggestions of actions you can take against the bills. In 2012, we could finally defeat these disastrous bills, and let the government know that we won’t tolerate Internet censors