Another day, another threat to internet freedom. According to International Business Times, beloved Texas Representative Lamar Smith is the author of a new bill that includes extreme surveillance provisions, and a name that will make opponents sound like criminals: H.R. 1981 (bump that last digit up three times for a more fitting title), or the 'Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.'
The new name has outraged many opponents of SOPA and other bills that could bring more government control to the internet, like PIPA and ACTA. It's hard to imagine the whole world turning out against a bill with the words 'protect' and 'children' in the title, regardless of the actual contents of the bill.
In the words of Business Insider's David Seaman, it's “just a B.S. name so that politicians in the House and Senate are strong-armed into voting for it, even though it contains utterly insane 1984-style Big Brother surveillance provisions.” Ouch.
So, what's so dangerous about the bill? If it's really designed to protect innocent children from pedophiles, why should anyone (other than pedophiles, of course) be worried about it? As David Seaman pointed out, H.R. 1981 contains some very hefty surveillance provisions, including one which would require ISPs to keep track of the IP addresses it assigns to its users, and to record that information for at least 18 months. Other information like credit card data and who knows what else would also be stored.
Adding insult to injury, the bill describes its target – in reality the entire internet – as 'unregistered sex offenders.' Once again, ouch. The scary part is that the bill could lead to monitoring of all internet activity, so that a subpoena can be issued for further investigation of the suspicious activity.
For those of us who aren't worried about the government keeping track of our hopefully innocent browsing habits, there is the whole issue of your very private and very sensitive information being stored for years. The bill would leave such storage in the hands of ISPs, although it does urge that 'such records... be stored securely to protect customer privacy and prevent breaches of records.' Presumably, this means that they would be kept in plain text files.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been doing what it can to raise a fuss about the bill, pointing out that the data collected it the bill could be used not only to investigate possible pedophiles, but that it could also 'become available to civil litigants... whether it's the RIAA trying to identify downloaders, a company trying to uncover and retaliate against an anonymous critic, or a divorce lawyer looking for dirty laundry.' It's also started a letter writing campaign, much as it did with SOPA and PIPA.
Unsurprisingly, Anonymous has also been quite vocal voicing its distaste for the bill. Various representatives of the group who cannot be verified since they are, well, anonymous, have taken to Twitter to raise awareness of the bill. They've also joined in on a campaign to '#UnseatLamar,' urging voters to remove him from office in the upcoming election.
It seems like it's every week now that a new piece of legislation comes up somewhere in the world, threatening the collective internet with fire, brimstone and eternal damnation. For such a massive and disorderly group, netizens have actually done a surprisingly good job at combating the bills.
When the internet is threatened, it seems that everyone from the masked hacker to the founders of reputable websites are willing to stand side by side at its defense. It's enough to bring tears to our eyes. Hopefully a heavy handed title won't be enough to keep this from happening again, because H.R. 1981 truly is, as WebProNews has said, a giant turd wrapped in cotton candy.
Image courtesy of Quickmeme