Two events this week produced some serious cognitive dissonance. First, Congressional leaders sheepishly announced
that they were withdrawing (at least for the time being) two bills
heavily backed by the entertainment industry -- the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA)
in the Senate and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House -- in the
wake of vocal online citizen protests (and, more significantly,
coordinated opposition from the powerful Silicon Valley industry).
Critics insisted that these bills were dangerous because they empowered
the U.S. Government, based on mere accusations of piracy and copyright
infringement, to shut down websites without any real due process.
But just as the celebrations began over the saving of Internet Freedom, something else happened: the U.S. Justice Department not only indicted the owners of one of the world's largest websites, the file-sharing site Megaupload, but also seized and shut down that site, and also seized or froze millions of dollars of its assets -- all based on the unproved accusations, set forth in an indictment, that the site deliberately aided copyright infringement.
other words, many SOPA opponents were confused and even shocked when
they learned that the very power they feared the most in that bill -- the
power of the U.S. Government to seize and shut down websites based
solely on accusations, with no trial -- is a power the U.S. Government
already possesses and, obviously, is willing and able to exercise even
against the world's largest sites (they have this power thanks to the the 2008 PRO-IP Act pushed by the same industry servants in Congress behind SOPA as well as by forfeiture laws used
to seize the property of accused-but-not-convicted drug dealers).
This all reminded me quite a bit of the shock and outrage that arose last month over the fact that Barack Obama signed into law a bill (the NDAA) vesting him with the power to militarily detain people without charges, even though, as I pointed out the very first time I wrote about that bill, indefinite detention is already a power the U.S. Government under both Bush and Obama has seized and routinely and aggressively exercises.
I'm not minimizing the importance of either fight: it's true that SOPA (like the NDAA) would codify these radical powers further and even expand them beyond what the U.S. Government already wields (regarding SOPA's unique provisions, see Julian Sanchez's typically thorough analysis). But the defining power that had everyone so up in arms about SOPA -- shutting down websites with no trial -- is one that already exists in quite a robust form, as any thwarted visitors to Megaupload will discover. There are two points worth making about all of this:
Read the rest of this article at Salon