Censorship of the Internet

The Senate is currently debating censorship of the internet – and that censorship has unanimous and bipartisan support.

America is usually known for freedom of expression, so can someone please explain to me how it is that there is a bill going through the Senate that would allow the government to create a blacklist of websites?

S. 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and has support from both sides of the table, as well as a significant lobby from the music industry. It gives the Attorney General the power to create, via court order, a blacklist of internet domain names that internet service providers, financial transaction providers and online ad vendors would all be required to block.  The category of websites being targeted is frighteningly large – it’s not only websites ‘dedicated’ to violations of copyright (like torrenting websites) but also websites that “enable or facilitate a violation” of copyright. Some of you may remember the court case against Youtube a while back, which Youtube won because it had a record of taking down copyrighted material as soon as it was noted. Under this bill, that wouldn’t be enough – because people can use Youtube for copyright infringement, the government could order internet service providers to ban it.

The scariest bit? Debate began in committee earlier today, and passed with UNANIMOUS SUPPORT.

Our senators somehow have missed the blatant and terrifying degree of censorship that this bill creates. There is no question that the music industry needs to address the question of music piracy, but censorship is not the answer. If the government can answer illegal activity on the internet by shutting down domains, then we have to consider the slippery slope implications – given the wording of the bill, it would be quite simple to expand beyond copyright violations to other illegal activities. If the government disapproves of illegal activities, as it should, then it should take offenders to court. It should not censor them without due process.

What can you do?

  1. Sign the petition at http://demandprogress.org/blacklist/coica
  2. Call your senators – let them know that you think this is absolutely unacceptable. The first time this bill was brought up there was a mass outcry – and it got shelved for a bit. We need to make it incredibly and unquestionably clear that we are AGAINST CENSORSHIP. Some senator’s offices have said they haven’t heard any opposition recently – we need to change that.

The government needs to respect due process and freedom of expression. COICA violates both of these principles, and must not be passed.