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This is the question that is before Congress as it decides on what to do with the Domain Name Server filtering provisions in the Stopping Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Public Knowledge has advocated from the beginning against this provision because it would make the Internet less secure, sacrifice our moral high ground internationally, and to top it off it will do nothing to deter Internet piracy. So while many would experience revulsion at the idea of adopting any tool that is used in the Great Firewall of China, the proponents of SOPA and PIPA have in fact, embraced it.
In a recent interview with Variety, Motion Picture Association of America Chairman and former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd said "when the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn't do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites." So in other words, since it worked in China, why not the United States? And despite all the opposition from government agencies such as the Sandia National Labs, top experts in cyber security, think tanks such as the Brookings Institute and the CATO Institute, former Bush Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Stewart Baker, industry associations such as the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group and the Anti-Phishing Working Group, several dozen organizations focused on human rights and freedom of the press, and more than one million Americans, the DNS filtering provision lives on.
To be crystal clear (because it seems we have to repeat this every time), there are parts of SOPA and PIPA that have support from PK, such as cutting off advertising revenue and financial payments to the worst of the worst criminal actors overseas. But rather than come to a reasonable conclusion, proponents of DNS filtering have double down on the tools of censorship by arguing that they are in fact not the tools of censorship (despite every censorship oriented regime in the world using them) and that they will in fact be very effective at solving piracy. Clearly the arguments of these proponents must be based on empirical evidence if they feel so strongly about Congress requiring DNS filtering to address Internet piracy. So I invite you to look at the evidence they have presented regarding the effectiveness of putting in place DNS filters.
In a recent study popularized by the MPAA on Capitol Hill titled “PIPA/SOPA: Responding to Critics and Finding a Path Forward,” a rebuttal is issued to the argument that DNS filtering in the United States will simply not deter piracy because people will migrate to non-filtered DNS systems (which would create a serious cyber security problem). The report responds by saying it would be difficult for people to bypass filters because “users have a poor history of using these types of tools in other countries where the government restricts access to certain websites” and that only about “3 percent of Internet users” bypass filters according to this other study. Well clearly something with a 97 percent track record is enormously effective and the United States should absolutely adopt such a tool! Right?
So what countries belong to this list of 97 percent effectiveness cited in the study supported by DNS filtering supporters? They are the OpenNet Initiative’s list of 13 countries that engage in substantive Internet filtering consisting of China, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Armenia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Burma (Myanmar), Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Quite the club the United States would take one step closer to joining by implementing DNS filtering, right? So if I am to understand the argument by the supporters of DNS filtering, it will work because it worked well in these 13 countries.
So will Americans have an open and secure Internet network (these are not mutually exclusive) or will Congress adopt the tools of censorship that undermine secure Internet communications? The answer to that question is up to the public and their 535 elected officials. So please call your Representative and two Senators and let them know where you stand on SOPA and PIPA.