Here in the US, legislation that enacts radical change in our daily lives so rarely passes, that most people become apathetic towards politics altogether. The government that we have built in this land is a sleeping giant in that it has the potential to affect our lives in profound ways, but is usually so deadlocked with compromise and fraught with infighting that we see it as mostly harmless. We become desensitized to it because it moves so slowly. We hope that it just leaves us alone, and it doesn't pester us enough to act when we should. It is not without irony that because of this, we become the frog in hot water that doesn't realize what is happening until it’s too late.
I am hoping that because I write to an intelligent group of people who are particularly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about technology and who understand the Internet, that this missive has a persuasive effect.
There are bills in the House and Senate right now that threaten to change the face of the Web as we know it. PROTECT-IP in the Senate and SOPA in the House. One should not even bother with what the self-parodying acronyms stand for, as those words have nothing to do with the actual meaning, intent or effect of the bills themselves, and only serve to obfuscate the issue and sell the bills to the politicians who will vote on them.
As an example, SOPA seeks to assign liability to site owners for everything that the users of their websites post. The site owners could face DNS and search engine blacklisting, jail, and/or heavy fines for the content that their users post. Furthermore, this bill denies said site owners due process of law by automatically initiating a DNS blacklisting based solely on an assertion made by an individual copyright or intellectual property owner, and without any necessary notification or forewarning to the site owner.
Imagine all of the websites out there today on which users collaborate and post content. Facebook, Youtube, every forum on the Internet, Twitter, reddit, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. Hopefully I’ve mentioned a website that you use and enjoy today.
Now imagine that those websites can no longer be, or rather can only exist as read-only channels for advertisements, because what website is going to accept the risk of liability for everything posted by the public on their site, moderated or not, under penalty of having their entire website shut down, or worse? Even if such websites switched to an aggressive moderation/approval process where each and every post was approved by the site owners before it was allowed to be displayed, the site owners would be no less liable for the one offense that the moderators missed.
What is probably the greatest irony of all is that as the free flow of information and ideas grinds to a halt because of this, the successful passing of this bill stands to benefit no one and the supporters of the bill will have only shot themselves in the foot. I’ll never go see that movie in the theater because I never read that forum post where somebody posted a clip of it and talked about how awesome it was. I’ll never buy that album because I never got to see the video where that really cool song was playing in the background. I’ll never have that great idea because that site where like-minded individuals used to get together and share ideas was shut down. Who benefits from any of this nonsense, other than luddites bent on sending us back to the 20th century?
On that note, we really need to talk to our Congressmen and women. I know the person who reads this post is likely an IT pro and is probably really smart, and as such, getting people like us to do something is like herding cats. But please, go to this site and enter your zip code and street address. (Or your neighbor’s street address if you’re paranoid.) This will get you the names and phone numbers of the offices of your local representative, and our state senators. For example:
I know that as a tech-savvy crew, we are used to dealing in emails and texts, but phone calls are more personal and will carry more weight than emails, especially to someone who may not fully understand the far-reaching implications of the bills they’re about to vote on. Take some time before you call to think about or write down what you want to say. Something polite about how you, as a constituent, would like to urge them to reconsider their support of this bill.