Obama’s geeks speak out on SOPA

Jan 14, 2012
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Obama’s geeks speak out on SOPA

The US government has responded to the internet uproar over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), promising that any acts challenging piracy will not go to the House of Representatives without consensus being found first. "While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response," President Obama's IP, technology and cybersecurity chiefs wrote today, "we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

""Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small" Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff wrote in a statement. "We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet""

The response has been tentatively welcomed by privacy advocates, though it's clear that this isn't the outright dismissal of either SOPA or PIPA that many have hoped for.

"We appreciate the Administration's recognition that our ability to innovate, invest, and grow the economy is dependent upon keeping the Internet open and free. We are also pleased that Majority Leader Cantor has assured House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) will not go to the House floor without consensus, which is clearly not the case at this time" Markham Erickson, Executive Director, NetCoalition

High-profile sites have already begun to take advocacy against the acts-in-progress into their own hands. Crowd-sourced site reddit has announced that it will hold an anti-SOPA blackout on January 18, taking the site offline for twelve hours and directing visitors to contact their local US Representatives in order to voice their concerns about the acts. Meanwhile, Wikipedia is apparently considering a similar blackout, and hack-collective Anonymous has said it too will be going dark on January 18 in combined protest. CES-organizers CEA and NVIDIA have also recently thrown their support behind SOPA/PIPA.

The Obama Administration has said it will contact the organizer of a high-profile anti-SOPA petition, along with a random sample of those who signed it, to a conference call to discuss the issue further. Beyond that, it promises to "host an online event to get more input and answer your questions."

At the same time, the authors of the SOPA and PIPA acts have each said they will remove sections of the proposed acts that would force ISPs to block foreign sites offering content suspected of infringing US copyright. Both Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, and Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, have said they will strip the ISP section in SOPA and PIPA respectively, MacWorld reports, though the potential for a DOJ court order to force search engines, advertisers and online payment companies to strip links for foreign sites and stop doing business with them remains.


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