Mark Grimm

 

Note to Politicians: Keep Your Hands Off the Internet

Two proposed bills in Congress would block your access to Internet sites that the government suspects are guilty of copyright infringements. This Internet blacklisting has created a firestorm among web companies and users worried about free speech and the stifling of innovation. The English-language Wikipedia site went dark Wednesday to protest the bills and Google created an online petition that attracted millions of protestors.

The proposals (SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate) are a slippery slope because they give the government the power to restrict what you see on the Internet. Though piracy concerns are very legitimate, threatening the First Amendment is not the appropriate remedy. Hollywood heavy hitters, who frequently give abundantly to lawmakers’ campaigns, are pushing for the bills.

Noted First Amendment expert Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor, according to CNET.com, said SOPA is unconstitutional because, if enacted, “an entire Web site containing tens of thousands of pages could be targeted if only a single page were accused of infringement.”

Are you concerned about who exactly would make the call about which sites get through and which sites get blocked? The same guys who have been promising us the economy would get better?

Fortunately, the Internet’s powerful voice is being heard. The NY Times reports Florida senator Marco Rubio, a rising Republican, announced he would no longer back PIPA, which he had co-sponsored. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, another co-sponsor said Wednesday, “I agree there are real concerns with the current legislation & I’m working to make important changes to the bill.” It may have been a good idea to draw that conclusion before co-sponsoring the bill.

Internet users who cherish the web as an unrestricted enterprise should continue to pay attention and keep the heat turned up. Career politicians often seek more control and the Internet remains one of the few remaining largely unregulated environments. Eternal vigilance is required to keep it that way.

The writer runs a media consulting business, is an adjunct media professor, and a former elected official.

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