The first hearing on Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-Texas) bill HR 3261, known as the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA), was held Wednesday in Washington by the House Judiciary Committee, which Smith chairs. The bill was offered back in October by Smith along with 12 cosponsors, including Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) who stated:
Intellectual property is one of America’s chief job creators and competitive advantages in the global marketplace, yet American inventors, authors, and entrepreneurs have been forced to stand by and watch as their works are stolen by foreign infringers beyond the reach of current U.S. laws. This legislation will update the laws to ensure that the economic incentives our Framers enshrined in the Constitution over 220 years ago — to encourage new writings, research, products and services — remain effective in the 21st Century’s global marketplace, which will create more American jobs. The bill will also protect consumers from dangerous counterfeit products, such as fake drugs, automobile parts and infant formula.
The bill represents a modification of the Senate bill, the PROTECT IP Act, which was reported out of committee last spring but hasn’t yet reached the floor of the Senate for debate.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is backing a controversial component of an existing computer fraud law that makes it a crime to use a fake name on Facebook or embellish your weight on an online dating profile such as eHarmony. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), a 25-year-old law that mainly addresses hacking, password trafficking, and computer viruses, should enforce criminal penalties for users who violate websites’ terms of service agreements, alleges the Justice Department.
In a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security, federal officials deliberated over cyber threats to the country’s infrastructure and a perplexing interpretation of the law that makes lying on the Internet a crime. During the hearing, titled "Cyber Security: Protecting America’s New Frontier," the DOJ’s deputy computer crime chief Richard Downing addressed Congress, asserting that the CFAA law must allow "prosecutions based upon a violation of terms of service or similar contractual agreement with an employer or provide[r]."
"Businesses should have confidence that they can allow customers to access certain information on the business's servers, such as information about their own orders and customer information, but that customers who intentionally exceed those limitations and obtain access to the business's proprietary information and the information of other customers can be prosecuted," said Downing’s prepared remarks.
The Federal Trade Commission reportedly forwarded a settlement offer last week to social media behemoth Facebook. The FTC began investigating Facebook over claims that the latter was violating the privacy of millions of users by changing the default value of several privacy settings without providing prior notice to subscribers.
According to published accounts of the content of the proposed settlement agreement, Facebook would agree to obtain advance, express consent from users before sharing any material that was posted prior to the new guidelines.
UPDATE: The resolution to undo the FCC's "Net Neutrality" Internet power grab was rejected in the Senate by 52-46 on November 10.
The days of tax-free Internet shopping may soon be coming to an abrupt end, if two Republican senators have their way. Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are currently preparing to introduce new legislation that would allow states to force Amazon.com and other out-of-state online retailers to collect sales taxes. Their bill has the backing of several key corporate retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores, Best Buy, Home Depot, and other companies that are currently required to collect sales taxes. At issue is whether online retailers should have to collect sales taxes in states where they’re making sales. Currently, online shoppers are supposed to report purchases for tax purposes but usually don’t.
"It's time to close the online sales tax loophole," says Jason Brewer, a vice president at the Retail Industry Leaders Association in Arlington, Va., which represents big box stores. "Amazon and companies like it are no longer fledgling startups."
The Republican-led legislative effort has a clear precedent in legislation introduced by Senate Democrats last year. The so-called Main Street Fairness Act of 2010 was introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and called for taxes on online purchases, under the presumption that local retail outfits are placed at a comparative disadvantage to online retailers due to discrepancies in taxation. The justification for these measures is a reprise of arguments that state tax collectors have made for at least a decade: they claim that Amazon.com, Overstock.com, Blue Nile, and other online retailers that don't always collect taxes are unreasonably depriving states of revenue, and that they enjoy an unfair competitive advantage over local retailers that must collect taxes, according to CNET’s Declan McCullagh.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced a “rogue websites” bill that has managed to attract bipartisan support even though it would force Internet Service Providers to create a list of banned websites and prevent users of those websites from accessing their sites. The list is all too similar to the “ban lists” that are found in China.
Breitbart.com reports: “US lawmakers introduced a bill on Wednesday that would give US authorities more tools to crack down on websites accused of piracy of movies, television shows and music and the sale of counterfeit goods.”
Entitled the Stop Online Piracy Act, the bill reads:
A service provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site (or portion thereof) that is subject to the order, including measures designed to prevent the domain name of the foreign infringing site (or portion thereof) from resolving to that domain name’s Internet Protocol address.
It is the House version of a bill that was introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier this year called the Theft of Intellectual Property Act or Protect IP Act.
In the wake of criticism over privacy issues on Facebook, the social network has responded by indicating it will make significant changes to its site in order to protect individual privacy. In fact, Facebook officials went so far as to pay hackers — whom they call “independent researchers” — $40,000 to find holes in the site’s security system to assure that they have addressed all issues.
According to Facebook’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, the social network has launched a “Bounty Bug Program” in order to discover any flaws in the system’s software due to “software complexity, programming errors, changes in requirements, errors in bug tracking, limited documentation or bugs in software development tools.”
Facebook posted the following explanation of the program:
Efforts by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to regulate the Internet may become irrelevant if the new technology being developed succeeds as expected. When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against the FCC last December, the FCC rewrote its rules to allow them to regulate the Internet anyway through the whitewash called “net neutrality.” Verizon immediately filed suit to overrule the new attempt, and a House subcommittee in March voted to invalidate the actions of the FCC. But the new rules remain in place until the issue is decided.
All of which may be irrelevant as new technology, called Telex, is being developed as a “work-around” for any such attempts by the FCC. Alex Halderman, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, is one of the developers of the software. In a recent interview he explained that people living under Internet censorship are already able to connect to third-party servers outside their country, but that it doesn’t take long for the government to find these servers and block them. Telex, on the other hand, turns the entire internet into an anti-censorship device. He says:
Angered over what they perceive to be a violation of free speech, hackers in California launched an online attack against a California transit agency after it turned off cellphone service at its stations in an effort to prevent a potential protest last week.
The hackers are apparently frustrated by efforts taken by police in San Francisco to jam cellphone communications so that protesters could not move forward with their protests. Gawker.com explains: "Protesters had planned to gather at a San Francisco BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] station during rush hour to protest the fatal July shooting of Charles Hill by a BART police officer. But the protest never materialized. One reason, possibly, is the extreme lengths police went to make sure potential protesters couldn't communicate."
British Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly considering the drastic step of “pre-crime” blocking of social media sites if the violent riots in his country continue. He contends that such a move would permit authorities more time to “catch up” with arrests of suspects shown rioting on surveillance cameras. The communication platforms under particular scrutiny are Twitter, Facebook, and Blackberry Instant Messenger.
In an address to the British House of Commons on Thursday, Cameron explained:
Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.
Similar measures were taken by then-President Hosni Mubarak during the Egyptian revolution earlier this year. The Guardian reported on the impact of social networking during the conflict: