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What's New in Technology for May 2012

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Technology: Anti-Piracy Issue Stirs Up Controversy

Legislation to penalize Internet companies that publish or sell pirated content sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Many legislators and online businesses seemed to feel that way, but some appear to have had a change of heart. Two anti-piracy bills recently ground to a halt in Congress as more companies consider the broader implications of anti-piracy legislation.

Although the anti-legislation faction might have scored a victory when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) were sidelined earlier this year, other proposed bills are still pending. A few months ago, with little fanfare, the arrival of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) created a backlash among freedom of speech advocates and technology entrepreneurs. Depicted as legislation necessary to provide federal protection from foreign and domestic cyber attacks, if it passes the bill will give the government power to monitor and interface with almost any online interaction. President George W. Bush’s former special advisor on cyber security, Richard Clarke, has spoken recently on the need for such legislation to support the efforts of the Homeland Security Department by moderating what goes in and out of the U.S. Internet borders.

The issues are complex and involved. Here’s how the major arguments stack up:

  1. SOPA, and legislation like SOPA, gives the government widespread power when it comes to surveillance of the Internet. The power inherent in this type of legislation is used by the FBI to gather information, including financial records, without a court order. This type of surveillance legislation allows theU.S.government to listen in on Internet communications without recording their wiretapping in print. The idea of financial information and credit card data being reviewed by the government is troubling to individuals and businesses. Questions are raised about security issues, and others about intellectual property, and how SOPA-like laws might have an impact on intellectual property law. As you can see, the list of possible ramifications is huge.
  2. Several countries, including theUnited States,Japanand 20 European Union countries, have signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Although it is not yet ratified and in effect, this move could require Internet service providers to police the internet. This idea is abhorrent to many who feel it threatens the free flow of information online.
  3. Not surprisingly, Hollywood and the music industry are among the most notable supporters of anti-piracy legislation. Netflix has formed FLIXPAC – its own political action committee. Formerly a big supporter of SOPA and PIPA until a strong Internet campaign put    pay to both bills, pundits believe that Netflix is gearing up to support legislative effort to address online piracy. Netflix has posted explosive growth and its clout with lawmakers should not be underestimated.

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