UPDATE, OCTOBER 22, 2010: CPJ's board of directors sets policy for the organization. At the October 18 meeting of the board, directors discussed the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, known as COICA.
The September 30 blog post below incorrectly stated that CPJ had "joined with other press freedom and civil liberty organizations and the Internet's pioneering engineers to urge the U.S. Senate to reject COICA in its current form." After discussion, the board determined that CPJ should take no position on the proposed legislation at this time. The matter was referred to the CPJ policy committee for further review.
In an Internet freedom speech in January, Secretary
of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States stands for "a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas." While the Web could be misused to propagate terrorism or steal intellectual property, she said, the administration believed that "these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the Internet for peaceful political purposes." But Congress and other parts of the Obama administration don't appear to have taken Clinton's words to heart. In the last two weeks, they've proposed measures that would break the single Internet, damage Internet users' privacy, and make it more difficult for the State Department or press freedom groups to argue that other countries should not censor or spy on Internet traffic.
On September 20, Sens. Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch
introduced the Combating Online Infringement and
Counterfeits Act (COICA), which would require U.S.-hosted
domain name registrars to block, and ISPs to strike from their domain name
system (DNS) servers, the addresses of websites "dedicated to infringing"
on copyrights or trademarks. A week later, The New York
Times reported that the Obama
administration intended to pursue measures obliging Internet services such as
Skype to modify their software to allow U.S. agencies to intercept users'
both U.S. proposals are constrained--in the first case, to blocking sites that
violate intellectual property law; and in the second to providing access for
lawful interception purposes only. But they create technical precedents and
infrastructure changes that can only damage the global fight for free
expression and privacy online. They also contradict Clinton's own expression of
U.S. policy. COICA would require local Internet companies to diverge from the
global DNS system, creating a balkanized DNS system that would dismantle the
idea of a "single Internet." The Internet wiretapping proposal
deliberately weakens the encryption that provides Internet users with their
best defense against illegal surveillance.
these bills hit even closer to home. The proposals' technical implementations
mirror actions taken recently by other countries with which CPJ has expressed
concern. In Thailand, for example, removing sites from local DNS servers is one
way that the country blocks independent media sites like Prachatai (whose
editor, Chiranuch Premchaiporn was recently arrested). The requirement to
introduce government tapping points in private software is precisely what the
United Arab Emirates and other countries are demanding Research
in Motion do with its BlackBerry mobile systems.
others not censor controversial political speech, when the United States
creates the same blocking system for mere violations of intellectual property
rights? If American law enforcement can demand that every secure program be
deliberately weakened to allow its agents access, wouldn't every other
country's police have the right to insert similar insecurities into the basic
code of Internet communications? Drawing a firm line against censorship and
widespread surveillance becomes nearly impossible when one of the major
diplomatic voices supporting that line decides to cross it itself.
joined with other press freedom and civil liberty organizations and
the Internet's pioneering engineers to urge the U.S.
Senate to reject COICA in its current form. If legislation was introduced to
deliberately weaken the security of Internet communication, we would protest
that also. These proposals weaken the U.S. claims to be a good steward of the
Internet, and they profoundly damage the fight for online press freedom