Web Development

Poll: Should the U. S. federal government censor the Internet?

The TechRepublic Windows Blog member poll question of the week: Should the U. S. Federal Government censor the Internet?

There is a bill winding its way through the U. S. federal legislative process called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). If it were to become law, the Federal Department of Justice of the United States could effectively take down an entire website by blocking access via the DNS servers. ISPs would remove the offending website from the DNS or be liable for fines and other legal actions.

I first saw the story via Twitter and a blog post on Techdirt, "The 19 Senators Who Voted to Censor the Internet." However, the follow-up blog post on that site, "Why Voting for COICA Is a Vote for Censorship," does an excellent job of explaining some of the problems the law causes with regard to the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The principle of "prior restraint" is one of my favorite Constitutional precedents, and thankfully it has been a thorn in the side for many overreaching pieces of ill-conceived legislation.

On a side note, it was fascinating to see how the news of this potential law passing the initial legislative hurdle played out in more mainstream media, like this wire alert from Reuters, "US Senate Panel Passes Bill against Piracy Websites." Notice how the emphasis is on the purported copyright infringing websites and not the potential for infringing free speech. The Techdirt blog post and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have a much different perspective.

As part of a major player in the media-publishing industry, I can certainly understand how CBS, CBS Interactive, and all of our colleagues in industry would want to protect copyrighted material. But there are already well-established laws protecting copyrights, and there are methods for addressing any infringement of those rights. The language in the COICA is too broad to stand up to a constitutional challenge, and it should be abandoned.

Besides, just removing the domain name from the DNS Server is not really going to block any tech-savvy person from reaching a website flagged under this potential law anyway. The website will still exist; all you need to know to get to it is the IP address. A determined person of modest technical abilities will be able to circumvent the access-blocking procedure.

So, the COICA is too broad, potentially harms the principles of free speech, could be easily abused, and would be totally ineffective. I think you can clearly see what my thoughts are on the subject. What about your thoughts? Is the law necessary? Does it go too far? Not far enough? Won't technology just get around these blocks to access? Take the poll and join the discussion to let us know.

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

50 comments
tiger48
tiger48

These surveys need a "Hell NO" button

dhopkins33
dhopkins33

No, I don't think the federal government should stick their long nose into the internet. I was very surprised when OBama's administration stuck out the Atty General's office, on the Wikileaks posts.

Jimmy S
Jimmy S

Does the US Federal Government believe that it has the power to censor websites that are hosted outwith the USA but whose DNS records are on some (at least) of the DNS servers that are hosted within the USA? i.e. How would this legislation effect the whole of the Internet? As a UK citizen we have enough interference from the EU, without the USA's government intruding as well.

dstewart
dstewart

The feds should stay away, EVERYTHING they touch turns into "male bovine excrement".

rob_g3
rob_g3

Big Brother is watching you, 666 around the corner, sounds like to me,,,, Maybe its just a dream,,,another movie made for Television.

kimbaslair
kimbaslair

1st off, as you noted there are ways around that so it would be ineffective. But most importantly, this is America, not China, but I see that recently Google & You Tube just banned Alex Jones' videos (re: wikileaks) and such search yet allowed the major media networks to broadcast the SAME material; is this considered SELECTIVE censorship?

dalemarfell
dalemarfell

The only reason I chose 'NO' is because there was no button for 'HELL NO!'

balayage
balayage

Yes, where it is determined in a court of law that the content is harming individuals through fraud, exploitation, and the generation of SPAM.

taylorstan
taylorstan

Driving over the posted speed limit is illegal. You are more than welcome to do it, however it's at your own risk. Same goes for sharing. It's NOT illegal, unless you violate the copyright law(s) for those materals. Do it at your own risk. The government blocking any part of the internet outside of a massive malware attack is wrong.

vaughanm
vaughanm

Sure they can go for it and be like China. Good thing is that american laws stop at the boarder and thus have no effect on me.

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

We can only hope the congress is not deadlocked, if they can't do anything now, is far better than doing more harm.

dadmoonbunny
dadmoonbunny

However, at this time, the Federal Government has AGAIN demonstrated it willingness and abilities to go around the current laws (or lack thereof) and carry out further tyranny. Janet Napolitano, head of DHS has now authorised her kingdom of JBTs to order websites shutdown and confiscated through servers without a true warrant, only language that says a judge has ordered same. In a nation that, at one time, prided itself on being common sense honest. They do not even post the judges name, or any docket number, case number, etc.

b372028
b372028

It's going to happen anyway so enjoy the net while it last. Technology may allow you around it but only the geeks are going to attempt.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

It's about time one nation stepped up to control the widespread abuse of free speech on the Internet. File sharing and copyright will always be circumvented, they need to start now and keep tightening the grip until everyone falls into line accordingly. This will be a beginning that allows the world to see the importance of one governing body for the globe, with all nations accepting a single set of laws. Then there will be no issues with legal differences, one set of laws for all mankind, and people will finally be treated equally globally. In which caes, why not the US? It could be Iran or some other undesireable nation if not.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Even under the best of intentions bills like this should not be passed. Time and again our government has shown that it cannot be trusted with vague broadly defined powers.

sullivanjc
sullivanjc

I think there should be a "Not just no, but hell no" choice

sboverie
sboverie

On the face of the proposed bill one could think that it would be a good thing to stop copyright violations. On the other hand, this seems to be a legislative trojan with an over reaching payload. There are laws on the books that can be used to stop copyright infringement regardless of the media used. EFF says that this bill would allow the US attourney general to ban a site even though the site may be found to be innocent by a court. The Reuter's article implies that this law is tailored to combatting piracy in other countries. The internet is a new medium but the rules against copyright infringement and piracy in other mediums should be as effective. This is a problem with congress critters, they write a lot of bills and fail to actually deliborate the merits of those bills. I like the idea of establishing a ceiling for the number of bills considered every year; keep the total to about 100 and we might get good legislation.

four49
four49

Would any rationally-minded person with an ounce of tech savvy ever answer Yes to this question? This is the kind of junk that gets passed by politicians who don't understand technology (or even the U.S. constitution).

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I think the COICA would be overturned in a constitutional court battle as too broad, but what do you think? Is the law necessary? Does it go too far? Not far enough? Won't technology just get around these blocks to access?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

are under no obligation to provide Jones or anyone else with a platform. Kicking someone off is not censorship. (It's also not censorship when member comments are edited or deleted here.) There's a huge difference between a company denying access to its distribution method (especially when it offers that service at no charge), and a government denying access to ALL distribution methods including self-publication.

rduncan
rduncan

I think you've missed the point entirely, the bill is concerning distribuation of copyrighted material on the internet, it does not effect your freedom of speech or any other freedom, except being free to the recipient of protected materials without paying for them. I'm from Europe, certainly there is also pressure to pass laws here regarding torrent sites, P2P clients and the usenet. companies with vested interests (especially in the states!) are trying to get thier rights protected which until the internet was never such a big problem. The internet has changed the whole landscape of Music and Movies- people who are 'tech savvy' and don't see anything wrong with downloading albums or movies aren't buying them, this has a big impact on pop culture if you think about. take a look at todays 'top 10' and compare it with any top ten from any decade prior to the internet. I think your elected officals need to be seen to be doing something about the millions of dollars of material thats changing hands all over the world, I also think that we cannot pretend there is any real technical challange in dynamically blocking sites, on a per country, per state or per contenent bassis. It's naive to think something wont be done when millions of dollars are involved- if senators see a little of that action for passing a bill!! -well! ask yourself what you would do in the situation

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

but I'm not basing my vote on any single issue. I realize that separates me from the average doctrinally rigid, litmus test voter; I remain undisturbed.

digital riverrat
digital riverrat

Sound familiar? The United States has never and SHOULD never advocate censorship, except during times of war when national security is at stake. In fact, NO country should advocate censorship. Protections against, and prosecution of, copyright infringement is all well and good, but the COICA goes way beyond that into infringing upon free speech.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Let's you and me secede, and form a Union of two -- along with as many of the disaffected we can gather, because the whole thing has gone around the bend, far as I'm concerned.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I am in favor of a body whose sole purpose is to comb through the US legal codes and remove laws which either duplicate other preexisting laws, violate the US Constitution or the Tenth Amendment. [b]Amendment X The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.[/b] http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

someone else's big green thumb is already up it (have you stroked your puppet politician today?)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't see how it differs from confiscating the property of someone found selling illegal drugs. The precedence are already there, and they look to me like they're in the government's favor. If you distribute narcotics from your news stand, the DEA can shut down your entire operation. How does that differ from shutting down your web site if you distribute material that violate copyright laws? I'm playing Devil's Advocate here. I don't see this as good policy or enforceable.

ITOdeed
ITOdeed

Trying to censor the Internet would be like trying police a landfill. The Internet is a vast wasteland of garbage ideas, pranks, jokes, and you name it, and occasionally something good is accidentally thrown into the mix. IMHO, the only way to censor the Internet is to shut the whole thing down. That ain't gonna happen.

taylorstan
taylorstan

Also, who's going to monitor these DN changes. What happens if the DN changes owners and the content of the site changes. If I buy a DN called torrents.com which was banned for file sharing, however I change the content to a site about torrental rains, how do I get back in the DNS record. My IP address will probably be different from the previous owners.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Rationality is dependent on your point of view. If you go from the same premises as everyone else, use logical propositions, then you arrive at the same conclusions and everyone agrees on the rationality of your reasoning. But if you start from a new premise, and use conditions that aren't known or commonly accepted, people view that as irrational. The problem is, the only way to break out of harmful paradigms is to use new premises and conditions. Those are the requirements necessary to foster innovations and improvements. Free the slaves? That will ruin our economy! Take children out of the factories and send them to schools? Preposterous! Let women vote? They don't know anything except cooking and having babies! Keep stores open on the Sabbath? Blasphemy! Have open discussions on sex, relationships, diseases, etc. on national TV? Oh, the Horror! All of those things were verboten to be spoken about. Every one of them overturned the "rational" beleif structures of their day. And every one of them increased people's freedoms and decreased their total misery. Do farmers destroy entire fields of rice, wheat, or corn just because there are weeds mixed in with them? No, because the benefits far outweigh the price of rooting them out.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Heck, even as a long time party member, I didn't agree with my party on many issues. Whats important is the overall assessment. If you agree with the party on their general direction, and support more of their issues than the other party(s) then thats where you go. If everyone was a single issue voter, no one would vote.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I tried and I think I was pretty nice about it, stayed in character throughout anyway. P.S. Enjoy turkey day, don't let anyone drink and drive.

blacksmithforlife
blacksmithforlife

Let the south rise again! The whole argument is based on the right that the government has the power.

RTHJr
RTHJr

Much of the federal power is really only in the domain of arbitration and not the plenary police power in domestic affairs. Blocking nefarious sites from overseas is one thing; but it really is up to the ISPs whether to comply with such laws and judgments. The thought that ISPs can be subject to fines by the government, fines which are often in the form of automatic prosecution where summary judgment is given without a jury, is disturbing. On one hand, DNS resource records are files that can easily be rolled onto other co-location servers in different geographic areas in a snap. To tell an ISP that it must comply even for actions and host servers committed in foreign lands is far reaching if and when another ISP can just do the same thing over in that country. To fine an ISP does not obviate the fact that the ISP can refuse to pay the fine. And if the government issues a writ to seize the ISP's bank accounts then we have an escalatory affair because the banks rely on ISPs in the first place to bridge the ETF networks. If peer ISPs find the actions of the government to be adverse to ISPs commerce then the government may very well find itself having their own DNS blocked on public networks! with the collusion of bankers to refuse to turn over ISP bank accounts and sue the government with their own "fines" for torts and damages! The federal government does not have absolute plenary power and compliance with such arbitrary laws are no more than voluntary. Some progressives may not agree with that statement; but freedom always is at risk of government infringement that in turn brings the risk of litigation. If the federal government passes a censorship law of any sort and mandates ISPs to follow, then the law has to be sensible and reasonable to the ISPs to follow, otherwise in a court with a true jury of peers...peers being other ISPs who are affected by the same laws...the ISPs have the final say so as a jury to nullify any egregious law by their power to acquit a fellow accused ISP from harm from the law. And if the ISPs are denied Due Process by not having a trial by their own peers, then our system of justice is truly broken down and we no longer have rule of law. At that point, then we have a run away court system that loses integrity and scoffed at by the people. An unjust legislature or court will not be obeyed because, well, as Andrew Jackson is so aptly attributed to commenting on a court decision: "Marshall made his decision, let him enforce it." If states, multi-national corporations (like ISPs), civic groups, societies, and private citizens think a law is far reaching and unjust, they simply will not comply or go along to enforce it. Compliance, again, is voluntary and naturally at the hazard of being cajoled into compliance by the arbitrary method of power of blackmail known as "fines".

digital riverrat
digital riverrat

Read the provisions of the COICA *http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-3804). It doesn't stop at copyright violation. It moves into objectionable speech and material as well. And who is to determine whether or not a particular bit of content is objectionable or not? The Dept of Justice. And by extension, the big dollar backers who put our politicians in power, not those of us being governed.

seanferd
seanferd

Users of a site discussing, say, a link to an infringing copy of a movie = site is distributing infringing content. That is where the problem with that narrow aspect of this is.

taylorstan
taylorstan

Nice German word there to emphasize the fact that this seems like a familure path....hmmmm

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Isn't that something you find on one of those shows that makes you eat 100 year old eggs? I guess a good kippered herring is like a good single malt Scotch in that respect though. Enjoy! WE GOT SNOW TODAY!!! Only a few inches all over right now but it looks like we'll be seeing at least a foot through the day. I LOVE it, nobody on the streets and I can just drive around without all the traffic. Of course OUR office is open though.

santeewelding
santeewelding

As he selects a vintage kippered herring from his stores, intending to secrete himself from all the madness without. Goes for Christmas, too. Thank you for your sentiments.

RTHJr
RTHJr

In the black ink and white paper, so to speak, of the declarations of the slave states when their state legistlatures voted for succession from the union, they explicitly pronounced leaving the union on grounds of protecting their slave ownership. Actually, economic forces would have had the slavery curtailed because the plantation systems were starving other industries desparately in need of manpower instead of wasting over abundance of labor on the plantations that marginally produced less and less output per laborer for ever slave laborer added. This undue economic scenario was due to the southern banking system that extended credit to plantations and made it a disincentive to produce anything else other than cotton. This arrangement then caused a discount on cotton on the international marketplace to the textile industry in England. In turn, the northen states of the Union received a discount in trade of manufactures with England. The end result was that accumulation of wealth, however surpressed by the inefficiencies of the overabundance of cottom the market would take, was diverted to the northern states. This accumulation of wealth, tragically, was more than enough to pay the slave owners the cost of buying the slaves so that they could be reimbursed for the freedom of the slaves. Double tragically, is that the freedom came about by the costs of the Civil War, AND, the slave owners who paid money for slaves were out of the money. So the wealth that accumulated in the north ended up being expended on funding the Civil War. Worse, the international trade triangle with the South, England, and the North was not comprehended and so the banking system in the South, continued to extend credit to the plantations to effectively continue the plantation, man-power wasting micro-economy that kept suppressing the macro-economy of the South. It took some one hundred odd years after the Civil War to shake off that economic drain and catch up with the North.

dogknees
dogknees

Just because a bunch of people a couple of hundred years ago wanted it doesn't make it a good idea now. Or even then. The number of people that want something has little correlation with what's actually in their best interests.

digital riverrat
digital riverrat

Slavery was only a very small part of what caused the Civil War. Economics and state and individual rights played a much larger part.

RTHJr
RTHJr

The Civil War was over State's Rights to protect their institution of slavery under the dubious 3/5ths population count of slaves. The Civil War was essentially the prelude to the US Constitution being amended that put the smack down on slavery and done away with the 3/5ths rule that began with the American Articles of Confederation (the first US government). But all other State's Rights are still out there and not explicitly delegated by the states to the federal by the enumerated powers of the US Constitution that specify exactly what is the purview of the federal.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

.. but I can't make out if it's a chine or an adam's apple, and I really don't want to get any closer to confirm.

seanferd
seanferd

And use it in all sorts of inappropriate situations.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Such activity is obviously worth shutting down, as opposed to those sites protected by the First Amendment where you can discuss making bombs, etc.

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