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In a move the technology sector will surely see as a victory, a controversial antipiracy bill being debated in Congress will no longer include a provision that would require Internet service providers to block access to overseas Web sites accused of piracy.
Rep. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), one of the biggest backers of the Stop Online Piracy Act, today said he plans to remove the Domain Name System requirements from the Stop Online Piracy Act.
"After consultation with industry groups across the country," Smith said in a statement released by his office, "I feel we should remove DNS-blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the [U.S. House Judiciary] Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision.
"We will continue to look for ways," Smith continued, "to ensure that foreign Web sites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers."
Smith's decision comes a day after Sen. Patrick Leahy, announced he would strip SOPA's sister bill in the senate, known as the Protect IP Act, of all DNS requirements.
Both bills are heavily supported by a wide group of copyright owners, including the big record companies and Hollywood film studios. The tech sector has claimed that if the bills became law, they would rob the Web of free speech and damage the health of the Internet. Copyright owners charge that online piracy has damaged their businesses and costs workers their jobs.
Without the DNS provision, SOPA now looks a great deal more like the OPEN Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), which was designed to be an alternative to SOPA. A watered-down SOPA means Smith improves his chances of getting the bill through Congress but at this point, nothing is assured.
Late today came word that six Republican senators have asked Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone a vote on Pro IP, also known as PIPA. The senators wrote: "Prior to committee action, some members expressed substantive concerns about the bill, and there was a commitment to resolve them prior to floor consideration."
Leahy issued a statement which appears to be a reply to the request by those senators. He argued that the PIPA vote should go ahead as planned.
"Saying no to debating the [Pro IP Act] hurts the economy," Leahy wrote. "It says no to the American workers whose livelihoods depend on intellectual property-reliant businesses. And it says yes to the criminals hiding overseas stealing American intellectual property...all Senators should agree that this is a debate we must have...and should support cloture on the motion to proceed on January 24."
It sounds as if Leahy is trying to keep some of the bill's supporters from bolting. There's little question now that some SOPA and PIPA backers in Congress are in retreat and seeking some kind of compromise in the face of significant opposition.
Congress "is realizing that they are not going to slip these bills in the cover of night," said Corynne McSherry, the intellectual property director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology advocacy group that has been among the most outspoken critics of SOPA and PIPA. "They didn't let the Internet participate in the legislative process and the Internet is speaking now."
When asked whether the removal of the DNS provision is sufficient for EFF to drop its opposition, McSherry said it's not even close. Though the DNS portions are deleted, Protect IP still targets financial transaction providers, Internet advertising services, and providers of "information location tools," or ILTs, including search engines and other Web sites.
"These bills need to be killed altogether," McSherry said. "Our view all along has been they are not fixable."
Statements like that from SOPA and PIPA opponents infuriate supporters of the bills. They have long said that doing nothing about Web piracy is not an option. The Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the four major record companies, issued a statement following Leahy's decision yesterday to remove DNS from PIPA.
"Instead of helping to come up with mechanisms to deny access to the U.S. market by foreign criminals," the RIAA wrote, "the opposition just keeps saying no. It is incumbent upon them to help develop language that will ensure that criminals can't access our market, while at the same time protecting our need for national cybersecurity."
In the fight over the antipiracy bills, the tech community banded together in an unprecedented show of cooperation and labored to rally opposition. Regardless of what happens with SOPA and PIPA, the tech sector has served notice that it has become a potent force in Washington.
The U.S. government will decide in about two months whether to expand a Pentagon pilot program that uses classified National Security Agency data to protect the computer networks of 17 defence contractors, the Pentagon's chief cyber official said.
The pilot program has largely been successful since its start about a year ago, although it has faced some legal, technical and policy challenges, said Eric Rosenbach, a former Army intelligence officer who was appointed deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy in September.
The Obama administration has stepped up its efforts to better protect government and industry computer networks over the past year given increasingly numerous and sophisticated attacks from a growing number of nation-states.
"Bolstering the strategic defense of the country and critical sectors is a very important priority for the Department of Defense," Rosenbach told Reuters, noting cybersecurity activities would likely see steady or increased investment in coming years, even as overall defense spending declined.
Rosenbach said most public-private partnerships did not add much value to cybersecurity efforts, but the Defence Industrial Base pilot was proving it could help weapons makers defend their networks against increasingly sophisticated and numerous attacks from a growing number of foreign countries.
The pilot includes the biggest U.S. weapons makers, including Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), which disclosed in May that it had detected and thwarted "a significant and tenacious attack" on its information systems network.
"It's one of the first and only operational models that we've gotten off the ground and have demonstrated that it can actually provide some additional measure of protection," he said in an interview at the Pentagon.
"We don't say it's perfect or it's bulletproof. But when you're thinking about cyber security in terms of trying to manage risk, this is one additional tool to do that."
Rosenbach said a study completed by Carnegie Mellon University for the Pentagon revealed some challenges with the pilot program and provided important lessons that would be used to improve the pilot program.
Representative James Langevin of Rhode Island, who co-founded the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, supports Pentagon efforts to avert the loss of national security data, but said sharing data with industry is not enough.
"We need a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity," he said in a statement responding to the Carnegie Mellon report.
In addition to data-sharing, he said the government needed to work with industry to put in place security standards for those who managed the country's critical infrastructure.
Langevin has proposed legislation that would give authority to the DHS to coordinate the protection of this infrastructure.
The Obama administration decided in November to continue the program for least 120 days and put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of the relationship with internet service providers, effective January 15.
Rosenbach said that, while DHS would have the lead, the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency would still play a strong supporting role.
Once additional legal and technical reviews were completed, the administration would decide whether to expand the current pilot program to additional companies in the defense industry, he said, noting that it no specific number of possible companies to add to the program had been designated.
If the pilot was expanded and proved successful, then DHS could use similar systems to protect 15 other critical infrastructure sectors, such as transportation, power companies and the financial sector, he said.
(Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Andre Grenon and Sanjeev Miglani)
The Internet community’s rally cry against anti-piracy legislation is triggering its intended effect, though the final outcome remains far from settled.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were flooded with calls Wednesday in response to an online blackout by technology companies, including Wikipedia, Moveon.org, Reddit and thousands of other small sites protesting two related bills that would crack down on websites that use copyrighted materials and sell counterfeit goods. Some key lawmakers who’ve supported or co-sponsored the legislation are also backing off.
Many of the sites that went dark Wednesday explained the legislation and entreated users to call their representatives by listing their phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
“It’s busy,” says Patrick Chiarelli, a staffer for Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. Staffers at other lawmakers’ offices also say their call volumes spiked.
The legislation – the Stop Online Piracy Act (a House bill commonly called SOPA) and the Protect IP Act in the Senate (called PIPA) – allows U.S. attorneys general and copyright holders to crack down on websites that display or link to copyrighted intellectual property or counterfeit goods.
Opponents of the legislation say their momentum has been gaining for several days, but Wednesday’s Internet blackout has spread their message to casual Web users who may not have previously paid attention.
“The momentum is totally real,” says Marvin Ammori, a First Amendment lawyer who’s fighting the legislation. “It’s nice to see a campaign like this when the average person knows something is up and calling his representative. People call about issues like immigration. But for Internet issues to get calls, it’s a big deal.”
The bills’ supporters, including business trade groups, publishers and media companies, downplayed the effects of the blackout, calling it a political stunt.
“Some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem,” says Chris Dodd, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, which supports the bills. “A so-called blackout is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently.”
Dodd lost more supporters Wednesday. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a PIPA co-sponsor, withdrew his support for the bill. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, wrote on his Facebook page that Congress should slow down in pursuing the bills’ passage and that it is “better to get this done right rather than fast and wrong.”
“Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about unintended damage to the Internet and innovation in the tech sector require a more thoughtful balance, which will take more time,” he wrote.
In the House, Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., who originally co-sponsored SOPA, withdrew his name from the list of sponsors on Tuesday, reported Politico. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., also withdrew his support from the current version of SOPA.
Sensing a rising tide of consumer backlash, SOPA opponents have been able to chip away at the bill. After much protest, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, announced late last week that he plans to scrap a key remedy for copyright holders and law enforcement—getting Internet service providers to block foreign websites accused of piracy. Obama administration officials also backed the change.
“Strangely, those who demanded that change are now shutting themselves down, although it is not clear why they are still protesting after they got what they wanted,” says Steve Tepp, an attorney at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “In the spirit of compromise, the pending bills have been modified.”
SOPA opponents aren’t backing down because the legislation contains other provisions that are troublesome to Internet companies, Ammori says. Copyright holders could also ask the court to force online advertising companies to stop doing business with the allegedly infringing website, have payment processors cease financial transactions with the site or get search engines to stop listing such sites.
“It’s better, but so many problems still remain,” Ammori says. “There are like 19 other things wrong with it.”
Tepp disagrees, saying the bill offers “a narrow and targeted approach” in cracking down only on foreign websites that are aimed at U.S. consumers and whose operations exist mostly to infringe on copyrights or sell illegal goods.
SOPA opponents say the bills aren’t entirely clear on whether domestic sites could also be subject to penalties.
[Excuse my cynicism but this outrageous bill follows hot on the heels of the most draconian law ever passed in any democratic nation -- INDEFINITE DETENTION without trial or charge. I can't help but feel that this alarmist bill was designed to distract and pull focus and protest action away from the new indefinite detention law. To be sure PROTEST action is REQUIRED for both attempts to kill what remains of our freedoms and liberties. Ed.]