SOPA and PIPA – Why you should REALLY care : a message from our systems administrator

I’m a regular guy – I’m not a smart guy, but the guy who does all the ‘smart guy’ stuff around this website has taken a moment out of his busy IT infected day to explain, in a little more abstract detail, about exactly why we should really be opposing this legislation. Take a moment to read through – and PLEASE repost if it makes any sense to you.

SOPA is bad and all, but can we stop crying about how “Congress is trying to censor the Internet” and focus on the real things wrong with SOPA?

I’ll break down right quick why the stop censorship stuff is more fuel for the hate game. There are a few issues with SOPA that painting it as “the government is censoring the internet oh noes!!!111eleven” ignore. One is that it continues the trend of creating law enforcement mechanisms that have no due process, putting “violators” in the position of being deemed guilty until proven innocent. One current “nuclear option” of enforcement is FBI/HS/ICE siezure of servers and equipment from violators. This here is a huge issue, because we don’t use “servers” anymore in a physical sense that there’s a single physical machine that runs a single website and if you take away the machine you take away the website and that’s that. If the govt was to sieze downinthewell.com or any of the other properties I manage, there is no physical server for them to take. There’s a cluster of dozens of servers in a datacenter that handle tasks for my sites and hundreds of other peoples all on the same hardware. FBI wants to take downinthewell, they have to take 100s of other sites with it. What if those other 100s of sites are businesses run by people who will go bankrupt before law enforcement figures out that yes, they did accidently seize their site? The free market happens… Oh and you the consumer don’t hear anything about this because typically because all parties involved are under a gag order so a business can’t even tell their customers that their servers/website was accidently siezed by the government because doing so violates the gag order and even though the innocent business didn’t commit a crime if they talk about it they will be committing a crime. SOPA didn’t start this, but it continues it and fails to address this technical reality, which needs to be the cornerstone of any new legislation.

Then there’s the technical issues. SOPA calls for very specific handling of DNS records that has some implications on a technical level. These are not guidelines or ideas, SOPA establishes new rules. I could explain the parts I understand, but there is an entire subset of the IT industry that deals exclusivly with the global implementation of TCP/IP and DNS. The important thing to understand is that it’s complicated and maybe engineering decisions are best made by the people who understand them.

Here is where the big problem with SOPA is that Google et al should be informing people about instead of the “congress is gonna make us like china!”. The SOPA is being supported and pushed by the entertainment industry lobby. No secret. They spend a shit ton of money on lobbying, congress runs on money, blah blah blah…
It is worth pointing out that when congress was debating and discussing this bill a month ago, the few opponents of SOPA wanted to have expert testimony on the details of this “technical stuff”. The supporters of SOPA refused.

Think about it. Congress is about to pass a law with very real economic effects that are broad reaching, and the congressmen who support this law DO NOT want to discuss it. They want to pass it and be done. It’s fine for most people to not understand the technical side. It’s fine for congress to not understand. It’s not fine for congress to not understand a bill, REFUSE to try to understand it, and want to “just pass it and worry about it later” and “leave the nerd stuff to the nerds”. Both of those are paraphrased quotes from congressional hearings.

SOPA isn’t about censorship. It’s about congress passing legislation that favors the narrow interest groups that bought and paid for it, even when those laws 1) won’t have any effect on the thing it’s supposed to fix and 2) will have effects on alot of things that congress isn’t interested in hearing about. But why address the actual problem when it’s easy to twist it into “censorship” and then hey everybody hates censorship so let’s all hate censorship together sponsered by Google (who’s setting you up to screw you over later, but that’s another issue entirely but i’ll give you a hint that what some could call the enforcment of truth in advertising laws it would be very much in google’s interest to call government censorship).