As Americans ready for a legislation that will impose a government-sanctioned firewall over the Internet, the elite computer-literate hacktivists attacking the law are finding ways to circumvent the passing of SOPA.
If the House and Senate have their way, the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, will leave Capitol Hill soon and seemingly cloak the Internet with Congress-created blockades that will shun every user of the World Wide Web from a whole slew of content, including music, videos and, in a nutshell, knowledge. Under the legislation, violation will yield massive fines and imprisonment — all for such action as uploading videos to YouTube. While the legislation is being delivered as a way to deal with copyright infringement and piracy on the Web, the law itself will severely cut down the free-flow of information online and would make something as simple as singing karaoke a crime if the footage ever finds an audience on the Web.
“SOPA is a joke,” an activist affiliated with the online collective Anonymous says to RT under condition of anonymity. “It’s Internet censorship under the guise of anti piracy. Everyone knows this.”
That guise is being guided by the government, however, which could make it come to life in the very near future. Only one week ago Congress approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, a legislation that allows for the indefinite detention and torture of American citizens. With being shackled at Gitmo a real-life threat now, activists against SOPA realize that the censorship shouldn’t be something that they’d put pass Capitol Hill. In preparation, adds the source aligned to the online collective Anonymous, “We are preparing for censorship much like China.”
As the realities of SOPA passing becomes an Orwellian-threat almost coming to life, computer users are quickly taking to the Web to spread information to other surfers on how to sneak pass the firewall that could cause the censoring of the Internet. “Most of us have been stockpiling IP addresses,” adds the source. Under SOPA, the government is believed to go after the Web by means of attacking the Internet’s domain naming system, or DNS. That’s the process that translates the actual, alphabetical domain name from a series of numerical characters, the Internet protocol (IP) address.
In order to get around such filtering, activists have already begun circulating lists online that chronicle the IP-addresses of popular websites that could be censored on SOPA so that users will be able to keep a roster handy of the digits that can be typed to dig up sites even as at risk as Google.com (which you could alternatively navigate to with the numbers 22.214.171.124 pasted into your browser). “SOPA emergency lists” have been spread around the Web in recent days via Twitter and viral messaging, allowing users to save a list of sites as innocent as Digg.com or The Onion, which are just as prone to having the plugged pulled on them than anyone else.
Erik Martin, the general manager of the popular website Reddit, wrote last week that, “If SOPA passes in anything like its current form, it would almost certainly mean the end of Reddit.”
“SOPA would make running Reddit near impossible,” added Martin. “And we have access to great lawyers through our parent company. I can't imagine how smaller sites without those kind of resources could even attempt a go at it if SOPA passes.”
For the less computer-savvy, developer T Rizk has created an add-on for the popular Web browser FireFox which instantly translates domain names to their IP equivalent. His program, DeSopa, is available for free and is just one of the latest alternatives birthed through the chilling legislation.
“I feel that the general public is not aware of the gravity of SOPA and Congress seems like they are about to cater to the special interests involved, to the detriment of Internet, for which I and many others live and breathe,” T Rizk explains to TorrentFreak.
“It could be that a few members of Congress are just not tech savvy and don’t understand that it is technically not going to work, at all. So here’s some proof that I hope will help them err on the side of reason and vote SOPA down.”
Other material circulating online includes a tutorial sent through Twitter that serves as a beginner’s guide to both the Stop Online Piracy Act and PIPA, the Protect IP Act that stands to yield similar consequences. One text file, “Why SOPA and PIPA Suck,” explains in layman’s terms, “How this legislation may very well fuck up the Internet.”
“It is often difficult for us average folk to sympathize with the billionaire performers in Hollywood and RIAA/MPAA who claim that we're stealing from them and compromising profits,” writes the author of the document. “They are correct – it is stealing, plain and simple. However, you don't see blanket legislation that infringes our basic privacy for any other crime, like shoplifting.”
“To the best of my knowledge, Congress has never enacted this type of blanket legislation that invades our privacy – except in the name of combating terrorism, of course.”
Even easier to understand is a video uploaded to YouTube this week by Leah Kauffman, the mastermind behind the Obama Girl-videos that led up to the 2008 Election. Over computer-programmed drums and a soft piano melody, Kauffman sings, “Don't put up a firewall when we could have it all / Say no to protect IP / You won't stop piracy / What is this China?”
The American Civil Liberties Union has added, “By instituting this practice in the United States, SOPA sends an unequivocal message to other nations that it is acceptable to censor speech on the global Internet.” Even the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, said in a recent speech that SOPA would essentially “criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself,” calling it “reasonable,” but that its “mechanism is terrible.”
Despite their attempts at appearing as advocates against SOPA, Google has also gone on the record to encourage Congress to find other ways to strike down websites that the government doesn’t want to grow. Before Congress last month, Google copyright policy counsel Katherine Oyama told a House Judiciary Committee that while the bill would “jeopardize our nation’s cybersecurity,” she asked lawmakers to consider other ways of censorship.
“If you cut off someone’s financial incentives, they’re not going to want to pay for the servers, the bandwidth and the infrastructure,” she said. In order to do that, she suggested the government look towards the precedent set by stopping funds from going to Julian Assange and his whistleblowing site, WikiLeaks.
“You look at WikiLeaks. I think this is a good example of the fact that this a strong remedy: choking these sites off at their revenue source,” said Oyama. “I think [copyright infringing sites] are in business because they can sell advertising or because they can process from subscribers. If you could get the entire industry together and choke off advertising and choke off payments to those sites, you could be incredibly effective without introducing the collateral damage we discussed to free speech or Internet architecture.”
Google and other big web companies shouldn’t expect the battle to end with a little snafu in the financing of the sites in question, however. Given the support that anti-SOPA and PIPA activists have received in this month alone, Big Internet is a force to be reckoned with. When the National Defense Authorization Act was approved last week, hacktivists were quick to wage an all-out campaign on the lawmakers who helped make the law possible. In the days since, personal information and private details relating to the politicians that voted in favor of NDAA have made its way around the Web, with hackers vowing to continue to wage a cyberwar against Congress and those that let the US government turn America into a battlefield.
“We've been watching you systematically destroy the rights of your own people, one law at a time. No longer shall we stand by and watch you enslave our fellow citizens,” an Anonymous operative wrote on the Web recently. “You have continued down this path of treason by creating acts such as the National Defense Authorization Act, Stop Online Piracy Act, Protect IP Act, and more. You've tried to conceal the true purpose of these bills, and pass them without the consent of the American people.”
“We are now here to undo your sordid life's work in its entirety. No longer will your transgressions go unnoticed. No longer will you enslave the people. The world will know of your violations against the rights of the citizens you were elected to represent,” adds the Anonymous operative.