Thursday, January 12, 2012

Internet blacklist power to be stripped from Senate's PROTECT IP Act

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) doesn't want to give up his DNS-based Interent blacklisting plans—but he's willing to put them on hold. One of the key drivers of the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate announced today that he will recommend stripping the DNS-blocking provisions from his bill while further technical studies are underway.

The complaints against DNS-based blocking have been vocal ones. Leahy announced his plan today to introduce a "manager's amendment" to the current bill after hearing from "engineers, human rights groups, and... a number of Vermonters." Not that he's convinced DNS blocking is really problematic.

I remain confident that the ISPs—including the cable industry, which is the largest association of ISPs—would not support the legislation if its enactment created the problems that opponents of this provision suggest. Nonetheless, this is in fact a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it.

As I prepare a managers’ amendment to be considered during the floor debate, I will therefore propose that the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied before implemented, so that we can focus on the other important provisions in this bill, which are essential to protecting American intellectual property online, and the American jobs that are tied to intellectual property. I regret that law enforcement will not have this remedy available to it when websites operating overseas are stealing American property, threatening the safety and security of American consumers. However, the bill remains a strong and balanced approach to protecting intellectual property through a no-fault, no-liability system that leverages the most relevant players in the Internet ecosystem.

Federal judges could still order sites cut off by US-based payment processors and ad networks, but actual Internet blacklisting would be provisionally off the table.

While these sorts of issues seem like they should have come up during drafting or during hearings on the bill, PROTECT IP has already moved out of committee and to the Senate floor, where it currently suffers a hold by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will try to move the bill forward regardless on January 24, and the late change from Leahy appears designed to get the current legislation passed now rather than allow opposition to crystallize around a totally different approach, like the OPEN Act now being pitched by Wyden.

DNS blocking remains in the House version of the bill, called SOPA, though rumors suggest it too could be altered soon.

Opponents like Public Knowledge aren't satisfied. "We appreciate the action Chairman Leahy is taking to improve his legislation," said attorney Sherwin Siy. "Even with that change, however, the bill would still be unacceptable. The definitions in the bill are still far too sweeping, it still grants too much enforcement power to private parties, and still confers inappropriate blanket immunity for private companies."