US Targets Censorship by Repressive Regimes, Introduces New Anti-Piracy Bill

By: Roxana Farahmand on 17 May 2011

The United States is to invest $19 million in new technology that will target Internet censorship in repressive regimes. The technology, described by US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner as a “slingshot,” is expected to pinpoint censored material and repost it on the Internet for users in all countries to find.

The project is part of a $30 million fund being used to promote civil liberties online. Earlier this year, the Obama administration made the Internet one of top priorities, and unimpeded access to the Internet was put on a list of rights for the US to uphold at home and abroad.

The State Department, which began the project, has been criticized for being too slow to use the funds and to move against repressive regimes like those in China and Iran. Some have also noted that censorship is not the most pressing problem in some areas – internet surveillance has come to be an issue targeting anti-government bloggers and journalists.

These projects are part of a larger government scheme aiming to establish the significance of cyberspace and online security in international affairs.

On Thursday, the Obama administration revealed its much-anticipated proposals for cyber security and internet piracy, citing the “pervasive problem” of copyright infringement costs “billions of dollars” annually. The new proposals, described by many as “draconian,” aim to eliminate online piracy through a series of actions that leave civil liberties and human rights groups fuming.

The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (“PROTECT IP Act”) is considered by many as “the son of COICA,” a similar act that never made it to a vote in Congress. PROTECT IP requires search engines to censor “infringing sites” out of their search results and encourages service providers to voluntarily censor these websites, making them immune from damages they would have received if they had not done so.

Under existing legislation, notably the Department of Homeland Security’s “Operation In Our Sites,” infringing websites could have their domain names seized. This has been largely ineffective, as these sites remain accessible via their IP addresses or through new domain names. PROTECT IP would give copyright holders a “private right of action,” the ability to take legal action against “rogue” websites taking part in “infringing activities.” According to the draft PROTECT IP Act:

The Act similarly authorizes a rights holder who is the victim of the infringement to bring an action against the owner, registrant, or Internet site dedicated to infringement, whether domestic or foreign, and seek a court order against the domain name registrant, owner, or the domain name.

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