It looks like 2012 is going to be a great year for the internet and a poor year for government. If the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) gets into law, then being caught infringing copyright could leave you cut off from the internet.
The proposed bill is so wide ranging that there is considerable opposition from many of the web big hitters with rumours that Google, Facebook and Twitter will stage a temporary brownout in protest. The problem is the fear of unintended consequences. The legislature would like to stop search engines and internet service providers from offering comfort to offending organisations and threaten excommunication for websites by denying domain name services (DNS). Outfits like Google fear the huge administrative burden but the hacker community is overjoyed by the new technical challenge and is busy building everything from an alternate DNS through to private satellite networks. Almost by definition, in a witch hunt, the wrong people will get burnt.
Apple ideas stolen
It is not nice seeing your ideas stolen. Steve Jobs went to his grave with the idea that the ANDROID phone was based on his intellectual property in the IPhone but I am sure SOPA would not have helped. Really Steve’s anger about the Android was its potential to undermine the locked down iOS apps and music market. (If you want to publish iPhone and IPad software you must pay the Apple tax) In fact, stopping every bit torrent illegal music share site will not turn the clock back. Steve dictating a new set of rules for the music industry just invented a new tyranny.
We need a new model for making money from smart ideas or a talented performance and it does not start with poorly drafted laws. Start by repealing a few like the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and the America Invents Act, they are about as useful as the red flag in front of the automobile. The intrinsic problem with computer systems is there is no such thing as a down grade. The legislature has to help simplify the world as it is and not try and bust us back to the dark ages.
Let’s be honest
Today the web is obsessed with privacy and anonymous browsing. In fact, it is a little too private for ecommerce and digital rights. It is a TV fiction that you can go from an IP address to a home address at the tap of a key. Even a skilled spook takes a little time to get the Internet Service Providers to part with the login record and by then your target has moved to new proxy server, taken over a new spambot or just left the internet cafe. Everybody must have the right to privacy but it would be really good if we also had the right (at our option) to be properly authenticated and identified. Everybody has got used to the idea that you might not want to pick up the phone if the called ID is withheld – it would be good to do the same thing with an extended IP address. The technology is already there with with digital signature tracked through trust providers – it just needs a bit of enabling legislation to get the ISPs to cooperate.
It does mean a two tier Internet. The dangerous anonymous wild west (more fun) and the safer zone with trusted and identified computers and users (more business). Wouldn’t it just be great to have spam block lists that really worked? It won’t be free but most will be happy to pay for a little insurance in return for a quiet life.
Ideas have always been hard to protect, start with a little bit of honesty, not by burning books.