Adopting SOPA is ending privacy on internet

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

This article is part of our special report Data protection.

Imposing restrictions on the internet, such as the proposed "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) in the United States, will only hamper technological developments, writes Bulgarian MEP Ivailo Kalfin (Socialists and Democrats).

Ivailo Kalfin is a Bulgarian MEP (S&D). He is also the EP's rapporteur on critical information infrastructure protection. The following was sent exclusively to EURACTIV.

"Can you live without Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Wikimedia, etc? Certainly, but the benefits are clearly less than the constraints. Furthermore, it is not only about these popular sites but about any website that might unwillingly contain an offer or a link to a counterfeited product or a product whose intellectual property rights are not covered and faces blocking by the US Attorney General.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that is been currently discussed in the US Congress jeopardises the development of the Internet. It was proposed in 2011 with the aim to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeited goods.

The draft provisions include barring advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with allegedly infringing websites, barring search engines from linking to the sites and requiring the internet service providers (ISP) to block access to these sites. The bill also criminalises web streaming of such content.

For sure the intellectual property rights (IPR) have to be protected on the internet. Undoubtedly this is not easy given the rapid development of the technologies. But imposing restrictions on the internet and on the development of these very technologies is certainly not the right approach. Such a policy could only hamper the technological development without stopping the malicious actions.

Maybe in some countries or in some aspects the adoption of such Draconian measures would restrict the free use of products that are covered by the intellectual property rights. But at the same time it opens wide the possibility to restrict the use of Internet whatever the motivation might be – legal, commercial, political, etc.

I can think of many regimes that would adopt exactly the same legislation as in the US not to protect the IPRs but to restrict the freedom of speech, for example. Once the principles of the internet freedom and internet neutrality are neglected, it will be virtually impossible to distinguish between the appropriate and the inappropriate use of the restrictions.

I can only agree with what one of the founders of the internet, Vint Cerf, wrote in a letter to the congressman who introduced the SOPA bill, Lamar Smith: "Requiring search engines to delete a domain name begins a worldwide arms race of unprecedented 'censorship' of the Web."

The draft bill, together with the Protect IP Act (PIPA), if adopted, would give the possibility to the authorities to block the work of websites they consider infringing the IPR rules. This sounds logical but the reaction of an enormous number of organisations involved in the development of the internet reveals a number of problems in case these bills become legislation.

Adopting SOPA would mean ending with privacy on the internet. The website owners as well as the ISPs would have to deeply analyse the internet content for spotting suspected counterfeit goods, otherwise they risk to be prosecuted. That is saying goodbye to the net neutrality. And to the free use of Internet. And then – what suspected counterfeit goods means?  Who is going to judge that? 

It became clear that even on the own website of Representative Smith a formal breach of the IPR was committed – a photo by Time is used without mentioning the source. If SOPA were to be implemented, the search engines would not be allowed to connect to the congressman’s site.

The US House’s as well as any other site would not contain information about the home page of Smith. Otherwise, the owners of these sites would have to be prosecuted. And, ideally, they should have spotted the violation of the Time’s IPRs by themselves. That sounds absurd but a literal implementation of the bill would mean exactly that.

The adoption of  SOPA would hamper the development of cloud computing and undermine the efforts to increase the security of the Internet through the recent adaptation of secured extension of the domain name system (DNSSEC). It suggests that a browser must continue to search until it finds a DNS server providing untampered results.

I am not against the enforcement of the IPR and the international cooperation in that field. But the way to do so is not by banning or heavily restricting the internet. Just the opposite – IPR should be enforced by respecting the core assets of the global internet and by using the technological achievements. 

The European Parliament has repeatedly voted in support of internet neutrality, data privacy and the freedom of internet. These principles are considered to be the cornerstones of the technological development. Eight members of the US Congress already retired their signatures from  SOPA.

I hope that the US legislators will seriously reconsider the methods to fight IPR breaches online. The developments with PIPA and SOPA represent yet more evidence that the transatlantic cooperation between the EU and the US on the development of internet, including on the implementation of legislation and security issues, is very important. Reaching a common approach will sometimes be difficult. But when achieved it would lead to a very robust reaction to the challenges of the internet."

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