Yesterday, the websites for the Department of Justice, Columbia Records, Recording Industry Association of America, and Motion Picture Association of America were temporarily knocked offline by Anonymous, the “Hactivist” collective using a “low orbit ion cannon” attack, which is a fancy/nerdy name for directing tons of web traffic to a website so that it crashes.
This came on the heels of, and in retaliation to, the arrests of several of the proprietors of the website Mega Upload by the agencies under the DOJ and several foreign police forces.
There are two points to illustrate here.
First, briefly, Anonymous, as a collective needs to decide what their priorities are. Mega Upload was a website that very unapologetically hosted and distributed a great deal of “stolen” content. While an unbelievable number of people utilized the website’s services, that does not mean that the site did not carry illegal material, or that what it should not have been shut down.
Anonymous tends to support the idea of doing the right thing on the internet. Many of their “attacks” have been well-intentioned protests against restrictions on the web. But, here, they are not retaliating for acts of limiting free speech on the web or anything like that. They are retaliating for taking down a site whose contents are widely available on sites like Hulu (mostly for free) and Netflix (clearly not).
While I sympathize with people being inconvenienced by having to pay for music and TV shows, it is not worth the animosity Anonymous has shown toward the DOJ.
Secondly, and more importantly, the Department of Justice, in taking down a foreign website “dedicated to piracy” has demonstrated why the Stop Online Piracy Act is entirely unnecessary as it showed the stated goals of the legislation can be had by means currently available to the government.
This is the second major example, the first being the use of the courts by both the government and content producers, covered by Everyday Counsel here.
If the Department of Justice, can take down rogue websites for violations committed in the U.S., then why does it need to have expanded authority which encroaches on the way the internet works?
The only real explanation that does not require tin foil hats or recounting conspiracy theories is that there is no specifically mandated power for the Attorney General or Department of Justice to control or police the internet. However, this has not stopped law enforcement from arresting criminals that utilize the internet to carry out their crimes.
Simply because crimes are purely electronic does not mean that law already on the books do not apply. The DOJ had to have a method of seeking the arrests for the members of MegaUpload.com, they can continue to use that.
And, fortunately, they are going to have to.
Today, it was announced that SOPA and Protect IP will be taken back to the drawing board.
Partially in response to the January 18th Blackout carried out by websites like Wikipedia and Google Congressmen Harry Reid and Lamar Smith conceded that SOPA in its current form was not the appropriate response to web piracy. Clearly defeated, Lamar Smith said this:
It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products. [via Reuters]
Our suggestion would be to take a look at what you can already do, rather than what you want to do, and then fill in the gaps. If you don’t you can get laws like SOPA and the Internet Safety Act which could combine to create China-like internet censorship.
For now, the internet remains the same bastion of free speech, anonymity, and sharing that we know it to be, less one Mega website. Hopefully, the next attempt to legislate the internet is more constructive.