Talk about dead on arrival, SOPA, the pathetic Stop Online Piracy Act aimed at clamping down on freedom of speech--excuse me--on copyright infringement--already looks like it may be toast, thanks to an easy Firefox add-on developed by Tamar Rizk of Cambridge, Mass., company Inficron and launched Dec. 19. The software, available here, according to its documentation practices DNS evasion to stop oppressive policies in America.
Information wants to be free. Here's a perfect example of why oppression can't really work on the Internet. When it was designed to ensure the survival of military computer systems after a nuclear attack, it was specifically built so that any damage could be worked around. And censorship, to the botic mind of Mr. Internet, is damage, indeed.
DeSopa, designed by Tamer Rizk, lets you work around the DNS server lookup tables, which is what the present bill would clamp down on. The way the bill works is that it would let the powers that be get into these tables, the Domain Name System, and change the addresses to block you from getting to a site that had copyrighted material on it. That way if you type in a website name, like MyStolenSoftware, it wouldn't take you to the real site, but to some other one, presumably the FBI's, or maybe just hit you with 404 not found. English language website names are converted in these tables to numbers, which is the way the Internet actually works--so-called IP or internet protocol addresses (They look like 55.123.456.55).
If you use these addresses by putting them into your browser window they work fine. Anyone who ever set up a router had to do this, because the router has a distinct IP address.
How Rizk's plug-in works is that it can use other lists that translate names to numbers. These can be on foreign-based DNS servers (there are a number of such servers around the globe that keep the Internet working), or use privately maintained lists.One such list is here, for example.
There are other ways to defeat SOPA, according to a letter to Congress from Vint Cerf last week in which he warned the legislators that they stood a great chance of undermining 15 years of efforts to make the Internet safer, implemented through DNSSEC-which addresses security vulnerabilities in the DNS, Cerf stressed. Cerf is Vice President and the Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, and until 2007 was chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the founding president of the Internet Society. So he should know. In fact, his objections, as well as ones from other experts have led Congress to put off the SOPA vote until next year.
Rizk speaks plainly about the political nature of his Firefox plug-in on its site, which I quote here to avoid editorializing:
Powerful special interests are attempting to force legislation for tighter control of the Internet, because they believe such legislation will preserve their power. The bill they have sponsored, SOPA, not only has severe consequences for the Internet, it doesn't even achieve their objectives. SOPA, under the innocuous banner Stop Online Piracy Act will have the following repercussions:
1) Make organizations, such as Google, Facebook, Digg and Reddit liable to censor user generated content. Censoring billions of records for billions of possible violations is expensive. One of these companies has already stated that it may be forced to shut down as a result of the financial burden caused by SOPA. Other companies may have to scale back the services they offer for free, or otherwise charge for them.
2) Provide well financed trade groups such the MPAA and RIAA with leverage to shape the future of the internet for the benefit of the organizations they represent, by threatening closure of services that they believe are not in their interest.
3) Create a high barrier to entry for start-ups and a rough legal landscape for small businesses. If SOPA was implemented 10 years ago, there is a high probability that we would not have many of the online services we take for granted such as YouTube and Pandora.
4) The probable dissolution of DNS caused by the natural circumvention of blocked sites will result in wide array of security problems, bleeding the digital economy of integrity.
Fortunately, for all of us, including content creators concerned with copyright integrity, this plug-in represents just the first workaround to the abridgement of the type of communication freedom that was the unintended consequence of the government-funded Internet.
Pretty funny, really. The powers that be, now faced not just with Arab Spring, but springs everywhere, paid for the technology of their own undoing.