The lawmakers promoting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) insist that in the long term it will improve the economy by protecting the intellectual property market and the associated industries and jobs. That would increase revenue and would guard American Internet ventures against economic harm perpetrated by foreign websites.

It does seem odd that given the safeguards supposedly established by SOPA, so many online organizations — Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Reddit, and YouTube — have aligned themselves against the measure and are actively working to prevent its passage.

Perhaps these information-age giants are onto something. Perhaps they understand that by granting the government the power to pull the plug on any one of these websites at any time without warning, SOPA is a persuasive disincentive to investment and thus to corporate growth and survival.
 
SOPA, H.R. 3261, was introduced into the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011 by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) along with 12 co-sponsors (as of December 16, 2011, there are 31 co-sponsors signed onto the bill). The bill, which endows the federal government with a broad array of powers over Internet content and activity, is now before the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

How did your U.S. Representative and Senators vote on last summer's debt deal that raised the national debt limit while promising to reduce future spending and deficit projections? How did your Representative vote on a measure that would have repealed the federal phaseout of the ubiquitous incandescent light bulb? And how did your Senators vote on an amendment to prohibit U.S. citizens  from being held indefinitely in the ongoing war against terrorism without being given a trial?

The answers to all three questions above are in our latest "Freedom Index" in the January 9, 2012 issue of The New American and also available online as a downloadable PDF.

The New American's "Freedom Index" is a congressional scorecard that rates all members of the House and Senate based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty, and a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements. The index is published four times each two-year congressional term; each index rates Congressmen based on 10 key votes.

In last Saturday’s print edition of The Economist magazine, staff writers attempted to compare today’s Internet with the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517. Claiming that by nailing his complaints onto a bulletin board, Luther started the Reformation. This was done, according to The Economist’s rewriting of history, “when Martin Luther and his allies took the new media of their day — pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts — and circulated them through social networks to promote their message of religious reform.” From there the article concentrates on the alleged “social network” that Luther had to promote his views, rather than on the message — the information — contained in those views:

In December 1517 printed editions of the theses, in the form of pamphlets and broadsheets, appeared simultaneously in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel, paid for by Luther’s friends to whom he had sent copies. German translations, which could be read by a wider public than Latin-speaking academics and clergy, soon followed and quickly spread throughout the German-speaking lands. Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius later wrote that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them….”

As GOP presidential contender Ron Paul is increasingly becoming a threat to the establishment and to big government advocates on both ends of the political spectrum, some members of his opposition are preparing dirty tactics to thwart him. The secretive hacker group Anonymous, for instance, has already vowed to disrupt the January 3 vote in the Iowa caucuses, which Paul seems poised to win.

Though Paul was initially almost wholly ignored by most politicians and the mainstream media, and treated as though he was a fringe, unviable candidate, he has surged in popularity in poll after poll. Now ignoring him is no longer an option.

According to the most recent Public Policy Poll (PPP), Ron Paul is firmly in first place in Iowa, with 23 percent of the vote, followed by Mitt Romney, with 20 percent, and Gingrich, with just 14 percent of supporters.

Here's the latest "Freedom Index: A Congressional Scorecard Based on the Constitution."

Members of the House Homeland Security Committee unveiled legislation Thursday that would authorize the cybersecurity functions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and establish a quasi-governmental entity to coordinate cybersecurity information-sharing with the private sector. The bill, called the Promoting and Enhancing Cybersecurity and Information Sharing Effectiveness Act (PrECISE), would station a national clearinghouse for information relating to potential attacks on critical infrastructure, such as electric grid, water facilities, and financial service systems.

"The risk of cyberattack by enemies of the United States is real, is ongoing and is growing," warned Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.). "The PrECISE Act, in line with the framework set forth by the Speaker’s Cybersecurity Task Force led by Rep. [Mac] Thornberry [R-Texas], protects our critical infrastructure without a heavy-handed and burdensome regulatory approach that could cost American jobs."

Under Section 226 of the bill, the Secretary of Homeland Security "is authorized to maintain the capability to act as the focal point for cybersecurity through technical expertise and policy development." Further, the Secretary is ordered to "coordinate cybersecurity activities across the Federal Government, designate a lead cybersecurity official within the Department of Homeland Security, publish a cybersecurity strategy and provide appropriate reports to Congress."

Critics of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have pointed to its provisions that permit the indefinite detention of American citizens, without charges and without trial. Additionally, the measure violates individual liberties in another way: by waging war on the Internet.

A major component of the criticism against the NDAA is that it labels all of the United States as a "battlefield" in the "War on Terror," thereby treating virtually all American citizens as potential terrorists. But in addition to that, buried deep in the massive paperwork of the bill is a provision that would allow the Pentagon to treat the Internet as a "battlefield" as well, in order to “defend our Nation, Allies and interests.”

 

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began releasing documents last week related to what it calls the “mass surveillance industry,” a little-known but expansive underworld of contractors offering tools for governments — from brutal dictatorships to more moderate Western states — to monitor citizens and hunt down dissidents. Furious activists reacted to the revelations by calling for stricter controls and measures to hold the firms accountable as “accomplices” to mass murder. 

The information released so far covers over 150 companies spanning more than two dozen nations. The documents highlight the nature and growth of a multi-billion-dollar industry that, in addition to supplying espionage assistance to the most murderous regimes on earth, has been quietly turned against citizens in supposedly “free” countries as well.

“Who here has an iPhone? Who here has a Blackberry? Who here uses Gmail? Well you are all screwed,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange told a press conference in London announcing the new project. “The reality is intelligence contractors are selling right now, to countries across the world, mass surveillance systems for all of those products."

Facebook is in trouble once again over possible privacy breaches. According to government officials, Facebook has misled over 800 million users regarding the safety of their personal information.

The FTC released a 19-page complaint against Facebook addressing how the company has been approaching its users’ rights and privacy. The complaint focused on the changes to privacy control that Facebook made in 2009, which resulted in the automatic sharing of personal information and pictures of Facebook users, even if those users had previously set their profiles to private settings.

Likewise, Facebook was charged with purposely sharing user information. Fox News reports, "The unflattering portrait of Facebook’s privacy practices emerged Tuesday in a Federal Trade Commission complaint alleging that Facebook exposed details about users’ lives without getting legally required consent. In some cases, the FTC charged, Facebook allowed potentially sensitive details to be passed along to advertisers and software developers prowling for customers."

Because this is not the first time Facebook has been scrutinized for issues of privacy, the company has now agreed to government audits of their privacy practices every other year for the next 20 years. Additionally, any privacy violation on Facebook will result in a fine of $16,000 each day for each violation. While the FTC commissioners have all approved of the agreement struck with Facebook, the FTC is open to public comments through December 30 before ultimately finalizing the agreement.

The European Court of Justice issued an important decision on November 24, ruling that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating on the continent cannot be legally compelled to monitor the online activity of their customers.

The complainant, SABAM (a Brussels-based consortium of artists, authors, composers, and publishers), was asking the court to force ISPs to aid its mission to fight file sharing of material copyrighted by its members.
 
The ruling is a significant victory for ISPs who rely on the ability to promise anonymity to their subscribers.
 
According to the text of the European court’s decision, copyright holders can still request that service providers take down websites that provide links to copyrighted content, but ISPs are not required to proactively search out and block pirated material offered by any of the various sites they host.
 
The case came to the ECJ on appeal from a lower court ruling that an Internet service provider, Scarlet, prevent its users from trading files on a peer-to-peer (P2P) network. The files at issue were songs and videos owned by SABAM members.

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