Will Congress Allow Telecoms to Conduct Cyber Witch Hunts?

Congress May Pass a Bill Similar to China’s Internet Censorship, With Corporations in Charge

by Elliot Cohen/ Buzzflash at Truthout/ Nov. 22, 2011

On the surface, the so-called “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) looks like it has a noble end, that of protecting criminal violations of copyright by foreign (non-U.S.) actors. However, on careful inspection, the Act has the potential to spawn a virtual (cyber) witch-hunt and dismantle the free and democratic edifice of the Internet.

 Giant ISPs such as Comcast have already begun to block file sharing websites; and Comcast has already gone to court and gotten the legal green light to block or slow web content. Now, as the Federal Communication Commission sits on the sidelines, it is about to receive the authority from Congress to go after content providers if, pursuant to Section 104 of SOPA, it can claim a “reasonable belief” that they are hosting at least some material that is infringing the rights of copyright owners. And it can do so with complete civil and criminal immunity.

Image: rationalnationusa.blogspot.com

In this regard it is useful to inspect the language of Section 104 of SOPA, which states,

 No cause of action shall lie in any Federal or State court or administrative agency against, no person may rely in any claim or cause of action against, and no liability for damages to any person shall be granted against, a service provider, payment network provider, Internet advertising service, advertiser, Internet search engine, domain name registry, or domain name registrar for taking any action described in section 102(c)(2), section103(d)(2), or section 103(b) with respect to an Internet site, or otherwise voluntarily blocking access to or ending financial affiliation with an Internet site, in the reasonable belief that-

1) the Internet site is a foreign infringing site or is an Internet site dedicated to theft of U.S. property; and

(2) the action is consistent with the entity’s terms of service or other contractual rights [emphasis added].

Pursuant to 102(c) (2)(A), an ISP that receives a copy of a court order from the Attorney General must take “technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers… to the foreign infringing site (or portions thereof) that is subject to the order.” However, pursuant to Section 104 stated above, it appears that no such order must be received by an ISP to commence an action against an alleged offender. Pursuant to the broad language of Section 104 italicized above, it is also entitled to engage in “voluntarily blocking” Internet sites for which it has “reasonable belief” that the site is a foreign infringer and its action is within the purview of its terms of service. The government would accordingly “deputize” Comcast, AT&T and the other ISPs to be its cyber police or law enforcement officers; and it would authorize these companies to make their own determinations in the absence of a court order, and to receive full legal immunity for their actions.

Pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act, these giant telecommunication/mass media companies are already required by government to cooperate with the National Security Agency (NSA) in filtering and copying the email and phone messages of all electronic communications coming through U.S. switches. This system of mass warrantless surveillance was allowed to operate illegally beginning in the early days of the George W. Bush administration until 2007 when the program was “legalized” pursuant to the Protect America Act. Now, these same companies are about to be authorized to block Internet content without a warrant, not just filter and copy it. Pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act, these companies now have immunity from prosecution for unconstitutional, mass, warrantless surveillance of the electronic messages of millions of Americans. These companies are about to be given total criminal and civil immunity for blocking Internet content without a warrant. This means that blocked websites would not have any legal right to redress even if the action taken by the ISP is unlawful.

Upon us is therefore a brave new world of cyber witch-hunting. The witches of Salem were burned at the stake for supernatural crimes they could not defend against. Now those who are targeted by government and/or their telecom cronies may also have no avenue of defense. (continued)

Read the Entire Story here Cyber Witch Hunts

Boldface added byBPR Editor

Elliot D. Cohen is a media ethicist and political analyst. He is the author of Mass Surveillance and State Control: The Total Information Awareness Project (Palgrave Macmillan).

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