In the beginning, the internet sprung fully formed from the head of Tim Berners-Lee… or at least that’s the urban myth. The reality is quite a bit different than the cyber-mythology, as the roots of today’s net harken back to the creation of ARPANET back in the late Sixties. It was not exactly a mature technology back then, as the first word to be transmitted was to be “login,” but the entire network crashed after “lo.” As the abilities of system engineers evolved, by the late Seventies there was a bona fide global connection, albeit not exactly the web as we know it today.
It did take another decade for Berners-Lee to marry hypertext with TCP and domain names to create the actual world wide web, which its creator expected to be a way for educational, government and military institutions to exchange information. It can be confidently stated that The Tim did not foresee the gaming, porn, media and merchandising that has become the core of the internet in the 21st century.
Legislators Trying to Rein in Pandora’s Box
It can also be confidently stated that the web opened Pandora’s box and let all the evils loose on the world that legislators are now trying to rein back in. So far the web has thumbed its collective nose at any and all attempts to regulate it. When you have billions of people sharing copyrighted content of one form or another it’s a bit difficult to jail them all. That reality is not stopping both the US House and Senate from crafting their own bills that aim to choke off the websites that are providing the infringing media, such as music, books, movies and television programs.
Which Side of Niagara Falls Are You On?
Under the various proposed legislation, the Justice Department could seek court orders forcing ISPs in the country to stop rendering DNS for violating websites. That would mean that if you were in Niagara Falls, Ontario you could reach the particular website as usual, but if you were in Niagara Falls, New York, you’d get nothing. The NetCoalition, which includes Google and Yahoo, has called the legislation a “morass of legal and regulatory uncertainty which will compromise this vital sector of economic growth.”
The Great Firewall of the USA
If the Great Firewall of China is regularly circumvented via inventive proxyisms, these new laws will do little to stop a dedicated, technically savvy user from reaching any website they want to see, no matter how restricted. One of the easiest ways is not to type in the domain name but the actual IP address of a site, but the legislation seems to indicate that anyone who posts information on how to do that could face action by the Attorney General. In which case there is little choice but to inform the reader to kindly disregard the previous sentence!
Leper’s Blacklist of Websites
There are also provisions in the bills to cut off the financial lifeblood of the offending websites by prohibiting credit card companies, payment processors, online ad services and other income channelers from providing services to them. These acts would in essence create a leper’s blacklist of websites that no legitimate business in the United States could interact with, under severe penalty of law. The USA is not the world, however, and many of the infringing websites today already operate well offshore of American soil, mostly in jurisdictions where they are nearly impossible for US law to reach. Surprisingly, many of these sites are not located in the lawless, anarchic countries like Somalia but in developed countries with state of the art infrastructures whose enforcement efforts are non-existent. Eztv.it is a primary source of pirated American television programming, and although it’s in the European Union, which has the severest copyright regulations on Earth, it’s also in Italy, where enforcement is shrugged off by a government in perpetual crisis.
Should these bills pass into law, American web users could find an internet very different from today’s. However, the jury is out on whether it would be an overall positive or a negative change.