Wikipedia has announced on January 16 that they will be conducting a 24 hour shut down of its English version as a protest against SOPA and PIPA. This unprecedented and extreme act has served its purpose and drawn international attention to two brewing bills.
In October 26, 2011, Lamar Smith and co-sponsors introduced the SOPA (The Stop Online Piracy Act) bill to the US House of Representatives. SOPA, if made law, will enable and empower US law enforcement's abilities to try and prosecute online trafficking of copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.
In May 12, 2011, Senator Patrick Leahy and co-sponsors introduced the PIPA (PROTECT IP Act) bill which will empower the law enforcement with additional resources to successfully "crack down" on "rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods." The bill was passed but is now on hold.
Major Internet giants have gone through extreme measures to draw attention to these bills to solicit the American public to voice their opinions prior to the vote scheduled for January 24, 2012.
While the bill's intent is to combat crime of online trafficking, the ramifications of what additional "power" in the government's hands concerning civil liberties is unimaginable.
The notion is noble, but naive at best. These bills are "band aides" or knee jerk reactions to a persistent problem.
The internet is an open field of opportunities. What is built on or not built on the field is dependent on what is allowed on the field. In other words, the best way to stop a problem is stop it before it happens. In order to stop a problem, the root/source must be plucked up and the resulting fruit/issues will diminish and eventually go away.
Online trafficking and piracy are merely a reflection of what has been allowed to take place. There has been too many liberties and absolutely no accountability. While speech and writing liberties should not be censored, it is important to remember that violating privacy and copyright laws are are prosecutable under US laws. They are crimes. A great example of freedom. While we should be able to do what we want, when we want, how we want in a "free nation," it is illegal to cause harm or take away another's freedom in our acts of freedom.
By working "backwards" in the internet chain of order, determining where it best makes sense to implement checks and balances will be evident. Should hosting companies be held accountable for what "their" sites publish? Should the website developers? To what extent? As long as these questions are not addressed with accountability as the driving force, online trafficking will continue. Passing bills into laws that deal with the aftermath of this crime will only hurt the innocent while the "criminals" continue to find loopholes around the system.
Should the Senate choose to vote these bill into laws, it is critical that accountability is on the forefront of the public. The American public has an obligation to voice concerns when questionable activity arises. Sitting by and letting things play out will empower the government to test and stretch the boundaries of power. Just as child will test their parent to see what they can get away with, this same scenario will ensue. There is strength in numbers and the power of influence is unimaginable.
The internet affects every aspect of this generation globally. What is tolerated. What is allowed. These questions will lead us to our future.