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The SOPA issue continues unabated

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February 5, 2012

It took an internet-wide public outcry from millions of U.S. residents to prompt House Representative Lamar Smith, author of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to postpone a vote on the controversial Hollywood-backed bill. But the question is, can a solution be found soon to the issue?

Now Smith, a conservative Texas Republican, is being targeted a second time, this time for championing legislation that would require internet service providers to keep track of their customers, in case police want to review those logs in the future. His bill is called H.R. 1981, and experts now say the SOPA debate will escalate to a new level.

The latest campaign is designed to build on the remarkable protests that were made just two weeks ago, which included Wikipedia going dark for a day and Google and Amazon.com posting anti-SOPA warnings on their home pages.

Irate voters overwhelmed the U.S. Senate's website that actually demonstrated to politicians that internet users could be a potent political force just like any other.

"This is yet another government assault on the Internet and its users," said Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal. "We taught Congress a lesson in January-- we need to do to H.R. 1981 what we did to SOPA, and make it clear to Lamar Smith and the rest of Congress that they can't run roughshod over internet freedom."

Demand Progress, a liberal advocacy group and enthusiastic adversary of large copyright holders, claims to have generated more than 86,000 emails as of today to politicians opposing H.R. 1981. The SOPA-supporting Motion Picture Association of America has accused Demand Progress of being allied with "offshore rogue websites that promote the theft and illegal marketing of American products like movies, video games, and software."

Justice Department officials have been lobbying to require ISPs to track of what Americans are doing online. Here's the time line:

  • June 2005-- Justice Department officials quietly propose data retention rules.
  • December 2005-- European Parliament votes for data retention of up to two years.
  • April 2006-- Data retention proposals surface in Colorado and the U.S. Congress.
  • April 2006-- Attorney General Gonzales says data retention must be addressed.
  • April 2006-- Rep. DeGette proposes data retention amendment.
  • May 2006-- Rep. Sensenbrenner drafts data retention legislation--but backs away from it two days later.
  • May 2006-- Gonzales and FBI Director Mueller meet with Internet and telecommunications companies.
  • February 2009-- Two data retention bills target ISPs, hotels, coffee shops.
  • February 2009-- Copyright holders would benefit from data retention.
  • January 2011-- Justice Department calls for mandatory data retention.
  • February 2011-- White House undecided on data retention.
  • May 2011-- Wireless providers exempted from Rep. Smith's bill.
  • July 2011-- National Sheriffs' Association endorses data retention.
  • Overall, other websites involved in the anti-SOPA protests are now joining the anti-H.R. 1981 chorus as well. A Daily Kos article says Smith "is back with a new antiprivacy bill". A Reddit thread yesterday calls Smith's proposal a "crazy snooping bill". A Virginia patriot group warns that "the time to stop this bill is NOW".

    A Ron Paul forum yesterday claims that, with H.R. 1981, "one way or another the government is going to censor the internet." A spokeswoman for Smith's House Judiciary committee says that "Demand Progress is claiming 70,000 for the petition, but thus far, they have not been willing or able to offer information go back up that claim."

    She also said that there has been plenty of misinformation circulating around the Internet about H.R. 1981, including statements alleging that it would require the retention of e-mails or that it applies to telephone companies' records.

    Demand Progress' Segal says that he stands behind the claim of more than 86,000 emails, and said that because they go to individual politicians, Smith wouldn't know the total tally.

    The whole issue of SOPA is far from over, and it could take years before a satisfactory solution can be found to the problem, and that would be acceptable for everybody. It will be interesting to see how the whole debate gets settled once and for all.

    Source: The U.S. House of Representatives.

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