SOPA; not our problem
<originally a Dutch Webwereld.nl column>
Yesterday was the big SOPA protest day. Wikipedia (in English), Boing Boing, Reddit and many other sites were blacked out. Other sites, and even google.com had one-line banners beneath the bar exhorting me to contact the US Congress. The link said: "millions of Americans Oppose PIPA and SOPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the US". Even a classic song urges me "to call my congressman". But google.nl, did not show this – clearly indicating that it perceived the matter to be an internal American political problem.
In recent weeks there have been many calls for action outside the US against SOPA. These calls have been synchronized with outrage and protests as
Bush Obama signed the NDAA anti-terrorism law. Under this law, anyone in the US "suspected" of involvement in "terrorism" (both nebulously defined) can be indefinitely imprisoned or even killed without trial or any other form of judicial review (think Stalin ’30). The anger itself is justified, but more than ten years too late. Indeed the only new provision in the NDAA is that the US can now treat its own citizens in ways that have been enforced against the world’s other 6.5 billion people since 2001.
The Big Brother legislation that has been introduced across the pond in the last ten years is now so extreme that even Oracle no longer wants to be a US-based company and European companies are beginning to avoid US providers over the Patriot Act. The whole country is obviously going through an Orwellian phase and so it is wise to keep a safe distance until it’s all over.
Even Michael Geist, otherwise a great source for information about ACTA, is not convincing. SOPA may perhaps be a broader North American problem but it still has little to do with the rest of us. Bits of Freedom in the Netherlands has a good overview of reasons to worry about a similar European SOPA-style legislation. Below are four points that explain why we shall not be badly affected:
"The Internet access to a site can be blocked." Annoying for Americans, but it won’t affect us. And Americans abroad can also easily bypass such a blockade through a VPN service, which is good for European VPN providers.
"Your domain name can be seized or sabotaged." Just avoid .com / .org / .net for your site/service, and steer clear of American DNS services and anything dependent on them – and that was an excellent idea long before SOPA. Your domain cannot be seized by customs and you will not be extradited and prosecuted for alleged violations of US copyright law.
“Payments to a website can be blocked." It’s really frustrating that there is an American credit card duopoly. However, Visa and Mastercard have already demonstrated with the Wikileaks case that no specific allegation of crime is required in order to be blacklisted. Fortunately, Europe has more and more local electronic banking systems that redress the balance.
"Websites will disappear from search results." It would be a shame if the American government really wanted to destroy Google, currently the best search engine, but it would also open the market for non-American alternatives beyond the reach of SOPA. Google could also clone itself, like Ikea – a Dutch foundation based in Zurich and Eemshaven datacenter and service its European customers.
This list confirms to me that we have become overly dependent of on US service providers (just like the software market!). This dependency is our real problem, not the current political shitstorm-of-the-month in the US. And finding alternatives and/or developing overseas partnerships is something we Europeans can proactively do for ourselves. That is where our focus should be.
America is broken, fundamentally broken. When an American politician cautiously suggests that the US might want to apply to itself rules it already imposes on others (the golden rule thing), he will be booed. This is the level of the debate leading up to the next "election" (I use the term advisedly – it’s more like bad reality-TV). The idea that it is still possible to influence US policy with a reasonable debate based on facts seems hopelessly naive. As George Carlin explained back in 2005, the US political system is too corrupt to deal even with the real interests of American citizens, let alone the interests of non-US citizens. US-based systems are now unsuitable for Europeans.
Smart Europeans can only wave goodbye and vote with their feet/wallets and DNS registrations. Surely Americans will understand that, it’s how they got started after all.