Monday, December 6, 2010

COICA: Lets the government decide what you can read on the internet

I've previously written about how the United States government confiscated 82 websites last month. That story seems to only be an early taste of what is to come.

The “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA) that has been introduced to the American Congress would make website confiscation much easier than it has been so far. Sure, they confiscate without COICA too, with legal basis in federal civil forfeiture law, but with COICA, it becomes much easier to do it. COICA will simply give the government the power to censor the Domain Name System (DNS). This system is what "runs" the internet, but it is also the system that lets governments (and internet providers) prevent users from seeing certain websites. The government will therefore be able to create lists of websites that are to be blocked, simply by deciding that these websites should be blocked.

David Ulevitch, the founder and CEO of OpenDNS, argued in a recent blog entry that this is a terrible idea.

"[A]s we’ve seen with the ongoing saga, the government will try and utilize whatever resources it can to take sites offline. There is absolutely no need to arm them with a tool to automate it, let alone one that sits outside of any judicial review as COICA does."

It's difficult to not support Ulevitch's conclusion. Seeing how the Obama administration has acted with the WikiLeaks affair, it is difficult to understand just why they should now become even more powerful. People may think that the administration will only do "good" with this new power vested in it, but the historical evidence fails to support it. The new power can create processes that makes it very difficult to get off the list and it could lead towards the "wrong" websites ending up on the list.

I am very afraid that the last may become the case. The problem here is not so much the websites that clearly target an illegal market may end up being blocked. That the government has an ability to ensure that illegal material is taken off the internet, is not necessarily a major problem, at least as long as there is a trial to determine whether it is actually the case.

The real problem is that legitimate - or semi-legitimate - websites may be pulled down along with the illegitimate ones. Seeing just how the US has treated WikiLeaks now, I suspect that other legal - but disliked - websites will also be flushed with this new act.

I will be following this case to see where it goes.

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