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Who Really Engaged in Misinformation?

February 9, 2012 , , ,

In a blatant act of hypocrisy, Cary Sherman the chief
executive of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), as well as
his allies, are claiming that the public was misinformed about the Stop Online
Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP (PIPA) when they opposed those
bills.  As Sherman said, “misinformation may be a dirty trick, but it
works.”  His organization would know given that for more than a year the
RIAA, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and other pro-SOPA and
pro-PIPA allies actively engaged in misinforming Congress on the implications
of the SOPA and PIPA.  

Take
for example the misinformation campaign by the RIAA and MPAA on the Domain Name
Server (DNS) filter provisions in SOPA and PIPA.  Both bills contained
provisions that would require broadband companies to filter DNS traffic to
websites that a court would order “blocked.” 
I say “blocked” because filtering DNS traffic does not take content off
the Internet, nor does it stop an individual from spending the 5 seconds it
would take to bypass the filter by migrating to a foreign DNS server.  It does however make networks significantly
less secure and more vulnerable to hackers and cyber criminals (hence the
“break the Internet” meme).  This finding
is shared by more than 140 Internet engineers (including the Internet’s
original architects and leading cyber security experts), several think tanks,
private companies, and public sector entities operating DNS servers.  

Public
Knowledge
and the Center for Democracy & Technology worked hard to untangle the misinformation campaign they waged in favor of DNS filtering on Capitol Hill.  We had to because frequently
throughout 2011 these trade groups representing some of the most
powerful companies in the world, actively tried to exploit the lack of technological
expertise inherent in Congress.  Behind closed doors in private meetings
and in open session with your Members of Congress, the groups’ representatives claimed
that opposition by experts was just the “Google crowd” and were completely unfounded.  This “Google
crowd” would consist of people like former Department of Homeland Security
Assistant Secretary Stewart
Baker
, the National Sandia Labs, and a lot of the human rights community just to name a few (for the full
list, click here).

During
the legislative hearing on SOPA, House Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman on
Cybersecurity Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) questioned MPAA Exec. Vice President
Michael O’Leary about the cybersecurity problem.  In response he received the standard
misinformation campaign line of there was no cybersecurity problem and that
this type of activity “occurred all the time.”  To bolster their
misinformation campaign, the content lobby worked hard to manufacture
the “truth”
by highlighting the work of the very small number
of individuals (a grand total of three) who wrote “technical rebuttals.”  These were not so much rebuttals as they were
well
orchestrated advocacy pieces
that ignored the engineering and distorted
the studies
they utilized in order to dupe Members of Congress to
believe the legitimate concerns were in fact unsupported.

Part
of the RIAA and MPAA misinformation campaign centered on the argument that DNS
filtering and secure networks (DNSSEC) could both exist in the same
network.  This was despite the fact that top experts in the field provided an extensive
explanation why that would not be technologically possible (a couple of these
individuals actually saved the Internet in the past). 
In the end, when Comcast (a SOPA supporter) announced they had to shut
down anything that filters DNS traffic when they activated DNSSEC and the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator stated that the bills “pose a
real risk to cybersecurity,” the jig was up.

Lastly,
claiming that censorship concerns in regards to DNS filtering were misplaced
completely ignores the fact that SOPA and PIPA moved America closer to censorship
oriented regimes.  If these bills were enacted into law, American
broadband providers would have been required to install the same filtering
technology used in China, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Armenia, Ethiopia, Saudi
Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Burma (Myanmar), Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and
Vietnam.  This reality triggered the outpouring of opposition from the international human rights community who fight censorship overseas
every day and point to the United States as the model.  Summing up the
well informed reasoning behind their opposition, Julian
Sanchez with the Cato Institute
points out that enacting SOPA
and PIPA would mean the “only difference between? the Unites States and China is what’s on the blacklist.” 

The more than 14 million Americans who contacted their Congress knew
what was in these bills.  If the MPAA and RIAA want to engage in a debate
of who engaged in misinformation, I suggest they look internally before arguing
that the public was too ignorant to understand SOPA and PIPA.  The truth
of the matter is the public saved a misinformed Congress from itself.