Stop Online Piracy Act Could Threaten Human Rights and Whistleblowing

SOPA, or the E-parasite Act, is being fought on multiple fronts by Google, Yahoo, EFF, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Stop Online Piracy Act Could Threaten Human Rights and Whistleblowing
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)

The House bill Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was intended to stop websites that contain copyrighted material. The legislation has been backed by MPAA (Hollywood studios) and RIAA (music industry) lobbyists and is largely supported by the Republican and Democratic heads of the committees considering SOPA.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has stated that SOPA “would mean the end of the Internet as we know it.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) writes, “The bill threatens to transform copyright law, pushing Internet intermediaries—from Facebook to your ISP—to censor whole swaths of the Internet. SOPA could forever alter social networks, stifle innovation and creativity, and destroy jobs.”

But, EFF also sees another troublesome area—human rights and whistleblowing.

“[SOPA] could also have a huge impact on the work of human rights advocates and whistleblowers who depend on online tools to protect their anonymity and speak out against injustice. Platforms created to provide anonymity software to human rights activists across the world, as well as next generation WikiLeaks-style whistleblower sites, could be major casualties of this bill—all in the name of increasing Hollywood’s bottom line.”

Websites like YouTube, for example, could be adversely effected by the legislation, which has allowed protesters from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street to quickly and efficiently upload video content of controversial and illegal state and police activity.

EFF also notes that Tor, an anonymity network commonly used by activists and whistleblowers, could be hit hard by this legislation, because it would allow private companies to force payment processors to stop payments to websites with just a claim that the site “engages in, enables or facilitates” copyright infringement.

Tor… has been vital for protecting activists from government surveillance in Tunisia and Egypt. While Tor is designed to promote free expression, privacy, and human rights (and has had an amazing impact on the Arab Spring), it can unfortunately also be used to mask one’s IP address when downloading copyrighted content, such as music. Corporations concerned about users illegally downloading music could use SOPA to force Visa and Mastercard to cut off donations to—despite Tor’s aim to facilitate human rights activism, not piracy.

The film and record industries are clearly pushing hard to preserve their own interests, and that is a legitimate concern, of course. However, the EFF makes a strong case that SOPA will severely constrict the flow of information from people promoting freedom, civil liberty and free information. Only a portion of the site might contain copyrighted material, but if it does, the entire site could be hamstrung, as was the case with WikiLeaks through Senator Joe Lieberman’s efforts with Visa, Mastercard and PayPal.

Since the bill does not deal with such concerns, it probably should be killed. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has already put the Senate version of the bill, where it is known as Protect IP Act, on hold.

To send a message to your legislator urging them to reject SOPA, head to the EFF website.