This week has once again been filled with news about the pending Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate counterpart PIPA.
While many of the largest websites on the Internet have vowed to blackout their sites this coming Wednesday, the people responsible for drafting the bills have started to make concessions. Just yesterday, SOPA author Lamar Smith said DNS blocking would be removed from the bill until further notice while the bill is put on hold.
In part, the ever-increasing pressure from the public and anti-SOPA lobbyists can be credited for this change in tone, but a statement released by the White House today might have also played a role.
Responding to two petitions signed by over 50,000 people each, the Obama administration recited much of the criticism voiced by SOPA/PIPA opponents.
“Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small. Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected.”
“To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity,” the Administration writes.
While this is encouraging for those who oppose the pending anti-piracy bills, the language used in the statement remains very vague. The lawmakers backing SOPA and PIPA have heard these comments many times already, and usually counter them by saying that the “openness” of the Internet is not at risk should these bills pass, and that due process is guaranteed.
It all remains a matter of interpretation.
The only strong position the Obama Administration takes is against DNS blocking. Here, the White House sides with many of the tech experts, and against the MPAA, by concluding that tampering with DNS poses a threat to the Internet.
“We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security.”
“Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk,” they write.
The above statement may also explain why many of the lawmakers previously in favor of DNS-blocking have suddenly started to back pedal. They probably got a heads up and changed their tone before the White House statement was released.
By itself, however, this change of position might be an indication that it’s not a good idea to rush through legislation that can have devastating effects on the Internet. If DNS-blocking turns out to not be such a good idea after all, there might be plenty of other things that need to be reconsidered as well.
For the SOPA/PIPA opposition the White House statement is encouraging, but nothing more than that. It’s a small win and a motivation to continue the protests, but in the end the White House is also very clear when it states that “new legal tools to combat online piracy” have to be implemented.
And so the battle continues.
Update: Rupert Murdoch is not happy.