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The House Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss to the hotly debated H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was flawed on so many levels. Even watching the hearing online was flawed, which is ironic because you would think it would be easy to obtain a legally accessible, good quality video stream on a hearing about online piracy. Once you were finally able to view the hearing, you realized the whole thing was a setup.
First, the panel was unevenly weighted. Out of six witnesses invited to testify, five of them spoke in favor of the SOPA bill. Google’s Policy Counsel, Katherine Oyama, was the only witness to speak out against the bill. Absent were the numerous consumer advocacy organizations, free speech organizations, human rights organizations, prominent Internet engineers, venture capitalists, public interest groups, and entrepreneurs who sent letters to the committee opposing this bill. So whereas the proponents of the bill had a larger – but shallow – bench that represented various sectors, the SOPA opponents only had Google. That was hardly what one would call a fair and balanced debate. Furthermore, it seemed that several Members engaged in the bipartisan game of Lets-All-Beat-Up-On-Google-Today during their questioning, rather than actually engaging in serious discussion.
Second, the panel did not have a single cyber security expert despite the serious cyber security implications in SOPA that could make Internet users more vulnerable to hacks, identity theft and cyber attacks. Given these threats, one would think that the Judiciary Committee would include an expert who would address these implications or at least try to smooth these issues over for those groups who have expressed concern. This was not the case at all. At one point, Oyama attempted to explain how Internet engineers and cyber security experts said this bill would harm DNSSEC, only to be interrupted by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) so that he could give his witness, Pfizer’s Chief Security Officer and VP of Global Security John Clark, a chance to address the DNS issue. Unfortunately for Chairman Smith, Clark conceded that he did not have any cyber experience. It’s ironic that he was the one chosen to testify from the security angle yet he did not have the same level of expertise as some of the Internet engineers who weren’t allowed to testify before the committee.
Third, the MPAA witness Michael O’Leary inaccurately responded to some of the questions regarding Google’s search results. O’Leary encouraged the Members to “go to Google and type in ‘J. Edgar’ and you will get a list of page after page of sites that engage in this illegal activity.” Upon closer inspection, this just is not true. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) called him out on this inaccuracy during the hearing. If O’Leary had exercised just a little more due diligence he would have noticed that the search results didn’t lead to pirated content, just websites with numerous ads and pop-ups. One would think that after spending more than $91 million in lobbying so far, O’Leary’s MPAA bosses, and their friends in the music and television industries would get their facts straight, but sadly that is not the case. After the back and forth with Lofgren, O’Leary conceded that “there is no silver bullet” when it comes to ending online piracy.
Fortunately, there was bipartisan opposition to this poorly drafted bill. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) is working on a different bill to better target the online piracy problem. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-California) has serious concerns about the bill’s cyber security implications and expressed disappointment that these issues were not raised and that noted cyber security expert, Stewart Baker, was not allowed to testify on how this bill would harm Internet security. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) shared the concerns of one of his constituents, Ryan Turner, a college student who runs his own IT business. Turner wrote, “The government hand in DNS servers scares me… Should this pass, I believe my future in IT will be crippled.” This comes from someone who is part of the next generation of job creators.
Overall, the hearing was a disappointment to those who believe the Internet should be open, uncensored, and secure. The attorneys and staff here at Public Knowledge have written numerous, informative blog posts about SOPA and its Senate counterpart S. 968, the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Check back on the PK blog for future in-depth posts about SOPA and where we proceed from here.