Federal Politics

Published — January 19, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Could SOPA and PIPA interfere with State Dept.’s global Internet freedom agenda?

Photo of protester in Cairo taken on a smartphone during the Egyptian uprising against President Hosni Mubarak. gr33ndata/Flickr

Anti-piracy bills pose a challenge for diplomats who’ve promoted the uncensored web to foreign governments

Introduction

Update, Jan. 20, 12:19pm: Implicitly acknowledging concerns about its Internet anti-piracy bill raised by online protesters and the State Department, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided Friday morning to delay a vote on the Protect Intellectual Property Act. But the Nevada Democrat still supports the increasingly controversial legislation. “There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved,” he added in a statement. House leaders are also having second thoughts about the Stop Online Piracy Act, their version of the legislation.

Two Internet anti-piracy bills working their way through Congress that are heavily backed by the movie industry could have significant impacts on technology companies, a threat highlighted Wednesday by Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing and other sites that went offline for the day in protest. As a result, some reporters have characterized the standoff over the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act – SOPA and PIPA for short – as a fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

But at an event put on by The New Republic Wednesday, Alec Ross, the State Department’s senior advisor for innovation, pointed out that that this issue is bigger than California. If done wrong, anti-piracy legislation could restrict the rights of Internet users across the country – and put U.S. diplomats in a very awkward position.

“Any attempt to combat online piracy cannot have the unintended consequence of censoring legal online content,” Ross said, referring to SOPA. He suggested that some measures in that bill could be inconsistent with the State Department’s Internet advocacy.

The department’s global Internet freedom agenda was outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech nearly a year before the uprising in Tunisia. In the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions that followed the overthrow of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali – some of which were catalyzed or sustained by online communication — it has become a central tenant of the department’s so-called 21st Century Statecraft.

As Clinton explained back in January 2010, lawmakers should ensure that citizens have the right to access the open Internet:

“Governments should not prevent people from connecting to the Internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate.”

But this does not include the right to freely share copyrighted material online, she cautioned.

“Those who use the Internet to … distribute stolen intellectual property cannot divorce their online actions from their real world identities. But these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the Internet for peaceful political purposes.”

These principles could be compromised by the broadly written anti-piracy bills under consideration, opponents allege. In a letter submitted to Congress, Harvard law Professor Laurence Tribe pointed to one section of SOPA that authorizes suits by the attorney general against foreign websites that allegedly “facilitate” infringement. He explained that this provision would likely shutdown websites unable or unwilling to plead their cases, effectively restricting citizens’ rights to enjoy content that very well may not be in violation of copyright law.

“If the owner or operator cannot be located … it appears highly unlikely that there would ever be an adversary hearing testing the merits of the government’s allegations. Even where the owner or operator of a foreign site is known, it seems doubtful that the government’s allegations would be tested, since foreign sites will often be unwilling to enter a U.S. court. In the meantime, the blacklist would deny the right of U.S. audiences to receive constitutionally protected information — at the very time our government criticizes other countries for denying their citizens access to websites that lack official approval.”

The administration addressed some of Tribe’s concerns in an official blog post published Saturday. It called for the bills’ authors to more effectively tailor the language of the legislation and ensure “strong due process” for websites hit by its provisions. While Ross praised the post for “unequivocally communicating a policy that is consistent with our Internet freedom agenda,” legislators have still not resolved the all of the issues raised by the White House.

In spite of these shortcomings, a vote to consider PIPA — the Senate’s version of SOPA — is planned for Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – Nev.) is one of a dwindling number of senators who still support the controversial measure. (His office did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.)

If PIPA fails to muster enough support to proceed, State Department diplomats like Ross may be among the many opponents to the anti-piracy bill that will cheer its demise.

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.