Greenlighting the blacklist


Christopher Coulter Columnist

Thanksgiving is upon us once again, and indeed that fact alone is something to be thankful for.

I certainly do not have to remind anyone of the gastronomical considerations — but because the holiday is centered on the enjoyment of the mass consumption of delicious food, our first reaction is typically to give thanks for the feast and the people around us with whom we choose to share it. But while the coming together of home and harvest is usually enough to command our full thanks on this date, our capacity for gratitude is not limited — if something remarkable is worthy enough, on this day it should have our appreciation.

Well readers, something remarkable has happened — that day is here. But before I reveal the good news, it is important to understand the context of what is likely to become the next great achievement of our Congress. Our two-party leadership in Washington D.C., whose recent history at the table consists mainly of food fights, name calling and general large-scale dysfunction, has finally come together in unified support of a shared cause. Whatever has inspired such a turnaround seems to be a mystery. Maybe the holiday season can explain why the wildly popular practice of disagreement for the sake of disagreement has been displaced with the political harmony we experience currently. Perhaps Democrats and Republicans are getting into the Thanksgiving spirit!

In reality though, we know that our elected leaders would not allow something trivial, like friendly holiday spirit or money to budge them from their intractable policy positions; therefore we rest assured that in the contentious mood of Washington only a truly worthwhile and populist ideal could be responsible for such rare bipartisanship. And no, I’m not talking about Congress’s recent reaffirmation of the “In God We Trust” moniker on United States currency — although that is a nice sentiment and helpful when attempting to justify complete inaction on certain economic realities. Surely the matter at hand must be merited even deeper in the very bedrock of our society.

So then, to what do we owe this newfound solidarity, you ask? Why censorship, my online friends — Internet censorship.

Considering the latest example of Congress’s extreme partisanship in the failure of the “supercomittee” to endorse a crucial deficit strategy, any bill gaining broad support should likely be considered vital. Politicians are known to disagree, but if lobbying voices are made loud enough to be heard, corporations confirm that Washington can be put to work. At the very least, the fact that agreement is possible when facilitated by corporate interests is something to be thankful for. And since the agreement pertains to the censorship of the Internet through a URL blacklist, it is important to note that just like Thanksgiving, there is a lot to be thankful for.

For lawyers especially, the added liability that would be enacted should the Stop Online Piracy Act pass could create thousands of new billable hours. Proposed felonies for indirect linking to infringing content such as copyrighted streams and files will open entirely new markets to the legal community. Men’s formalwear will boom; tee times will disappear. The inhibition of business in the tech sector — one of the few bright spots of our national economy — is not much of a concern. There’s really no better way to test the health of a growing economy than by enacting legislation designed to stifle it — adversity is only a problem if it can’t be overcome.

While the financial solution to piracy called for by censorship opponents like Google is viable, tracking payments to infringing sites is less efficient than the orderly tactics employed by more draconian powers. SOPA is actually just what the Internet needs to get its act together. For years, the American Internet has toiled in inferiority due to its lack of a blacklist that would permit the government to block certain websites. But this so called “free” and “open” Internet lacks the kind of infrastructure and attention to detail implemented by Iran and the world Internet leader, China.

In these countries’ more advanced version of the Internet, the government retains full control of the content that consumers are allowed to obtain and view. Our current model does not allow for the kind of swift censorship provided by China and Iran’s more up-to-date protocols. But while our lack of Internet superiority is a concern, defense and continuity of government interests here have made sure that an Internet kill switch akin to those employed throughout the Arab Spring remains alive on Capitol Hill. A kill switch would be a major upgrade, putting our systems on almost even ground with many third-world regimes. In fact, from the widespread support garnered by the current censorship bills, the dream of full government powers over the Internet domain is within reach.

The web’s culture of unmitigated growth is a danger to our mainstream information providers. So lets give our thanks to those on the leading edge of this fight, there is still hope — from net neutrality, to kill-switches and URL blocking, a sustained attack on the resilient Internet continues.

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