Lawmakers Don't Understand Consequences of SOPA
Congress doesn't have, and apparently doesn't want, dissenting information on Internet-piracy acts
December 21, 2011
"Let's bring the nerds in and get this right." That admonishment by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, was the most poignant moment during the recent hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act. While it's unreasonable to expect politicians to be expert in every policy area, the least we can ask of our lawmakers is to acknowledge when they don't have the requisite information at hand, and do all they can to secure it.
That's all that Chaffetz was pleading for, but his SOPA-supporting colleagues made it evident that even this is too much to expect. Rep. Mel Watt put it well: "As one who acknowledged in his opening statement that he was not a nerd and didn't understand a lot of the technological stuff, I'm not the person to argue about the technology part of this." Seconds later he asserted that he did not believe the many engineers who assert that SOPA would undermine Internet security—and who were never given the opportunity to testify.
SOPA is indeed technically complicated, and has far-reaching implications that should convince lawmakers of the need to get it right. SOPA would give the government and corporations new powers to block Americans' access to websites accused of copyright infringement; create broad, nebulous new liabilities for sites that rely on user generated content—like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social networks, and make it a felony for people to stream unlicensed content (think cover song videos). It will kill jobs and stymie innovation, undermine cybersecurity, risk undue Internet censorship, and provide comfort to authoritarian regimes around the globe who seek to manipulate the Internet to quash dissent.
Last month, the committee chair and lead sponsor brought in SIX witnesses to testify on the legislation, five of whom were supportive of the legislation and none of whom was a disinterested expert on what SOPA's passage would portend for the Internet or for society at large. With more than 3 million Internet users having urged their lawmakers to oppose the bill, the committee has no dearth of potential witnesses—and with so much at stake, it has no excuses.