EFF Slams US COICA Bill as Internet Censorship Allowing Domain Deletion

By September 22, 2010 Governance No Comments

The legislation introduced on Monday this week that aims to curb online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods through deleting domain names has been slammed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The legislation, a short bill, called the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (COICA) is described as flawed by the EFF. It “would allow the Attorney General and the Department of Justice to break the Internet one domain at a time – by requiring domain registrars/registries, ISPs, DNS providers, and others to block Internet users from reaching certain websites,” said the EFF. “The bill would also create two Internet blacklists.”

The EFF describes the two lists as thus:
“The first is a list of all the websites hit with a censorship court order from the Attorney General. The second, more worrying, blacklist is a list of domain names that the Department of Justice determines — without judicial review — are ‘dedicated to infringing activities.’ The bill only requires blocking for domains in the first list, but strongly suggests that domains on the second list should be blocked as well by providing legal immunity for Internet intermediaries and DNS operators who decide to block domains on the second blacklist as well. (It’s easy to predict that there will be tremendous pressure for Internet intermediaries of all stripes to block these ‘deemed infringing’ sites on the second blacklist.)”

The EFF goes on to say the bill is a censorship bill that “censorship bill that runs roughshod over freedom of speech on the Internet.” The legislation blocks a whole domain name, not just the infringing part of the website. Not only that, but the EFF notes “the DMCA already gives copyright owners legal tools to remove infringing material piece-by-piece, and to obtain injunctions requiring ISPs to block certain offshore infringing websites.”

The EFF describes the bill as being poorly drafted and asks what “governments deny their citizens access to parts of the Internet? For now, it is mostly totalitarian, profoundly anti-democratic regimes that keep their citizens from seeing the whole Internet. With this bill, the United States risks telling countries throughout the world, ‘Unilateral censorship of websites that the government doesn’t like is okay — and this is how you do it.'”

It is also not very good at dealing with technology with “even a relatively unsophisticated technologist can begin to imagine the workarounds: a return to encrypted peer-to-peer, modified /etc/hosts files (that don’t rely on the domain name system for finding things on the Internet), and other tools, which will emerge and ensure that committed pirates have a way to route around the bill’s damage to the DNS system.”

The EFF concludes that to them “COICA looks like another misguided gift to a shortsighted industry whose first instinct with respect to the Internet is to try to break it. There are still many questions to be answered, but one thing is for sure — this bill allows the government to suppress truthful speech and could block access to a wealth of non-infringing speech, and the end result will do little to protect artists or mollify the industries that profit from them. Stay tuned for more analysis, information, and steps you can take to fight Internet censorship.”

To read the EFF’s analysis in full of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act or COICA, see www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/09/censorship-internet-takes-center-stage-online.