Tide turns against SOPA, but it's not dead yet

Public pressure against the Stop Online Privacy Act has stopped the bill's momentum. But the Protect IP Act is still up for consideration in the Senate.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) -- seen by some as the biggest government threat to Internet privacy and freedom of speech to date -- appears to be dead, at least in its current form. But opponents aren't celebrating yet, saying SOPA could rise again.

For now, at least, the forward momentum SOPA supporters had just a month ago has been stalled indefinitely. The tide shifted at the start of the weekend, when House SOPA sponsors agreed to drop a key provision that would have required service providers to block access to international sites accused of piracy.

On the Senate side, six Republicans who previously supported PIPA asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone a scheduled Jan. 24 vote on the bill. In a letter to Reid, the senators said the bill needed more debate to avoid "unintended consequences."

That came one day after the chief sponsor of PIPA, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), called for a reevaluation of the bill's DNS filtering and blocking provision.

Then, on Saturday, the Obama Administration issued its first declarative statement on SOPA and PIPA, saying that while online piracy by foreign websites is "a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

The statement added, "Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security."

A few hours after the statement was released, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had promised him the House would not vote on SOPA unless there is consensus on the bill.

"The voice of the Internet community has been heard," Issa said. "Much more education for members of Congress about the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal."

SOPA is backed mainly by the entertainment industry, which is seeking the help of government to block online file-sharing operations based overseas, also known as "rogue sites," from stealing and distributing its films, music and software.

But its opponents, which include some of the biggest names in Internet innovation -- Google, Facebook, Twitter and Mozilla -- argue that SOPA could undermine the global domain system and create enormous network-security holes. They say it would also eliminate safe harbors and allow global Internet censorship.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation says copyright infringement provisions in the legislation would not only require social media sites like Facebook and YouTube to police their sites at huge cost, but would also "decimate the open source software community."

"This includes organizations that are funded by the State Department to create circumvention software to help democratic activists get around oppressive regimes' online censorship mechanisms."

Rafal Los, a security strategist for HP software, said, "When the government has control over the pipes that feed information, they control that information. Whether that is for analytical 'good' or questionable motives, it's dangerous."

The balance between freedom and censorship, "is notoriously difficult to achieve, and the Internet is not the only place this has been a debate," he said. "It will likely require compromise from both extremes. Hopefully we can be adults about it."

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