Senator Wyden threatens filibuster; will read thousands of petition names on the Senate floor

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Just how bad is this bill? It would probably kill Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, eBay, and YouTube - and possibly Google, too.

Imagine for a moment that you run a website. A website where you let, say, a few dozen people - some friends, some acquaintances, some more-or-less strangers - write about whatever topics matter to them. (You might recognize just such a site, natch.)

Now, let's say one of those people plagiarizes some content. Or, perhaps, posts a few links to a site where people could pirate movies or songs.

What's the correct remedy? After all, protecting the rights of content producers and owners from rip-offs is a good thing.

Well, under the current law, the content owner would contact the owner of the site and ask 'em to take down the offending content. If they refused, the content owner could go "upstream" to the site owner's internet host and make the same request, and so on, up the line. Of course, lawsuits would be threatened. It wouldn't take long before someone would decide that taking down the content would be preferable to a lawsuit.

But under the proposed PIPA and SOPA bills, the content owner wouldn't even have to contact the site owner. In fact, they could run directly to the Justice Department, who would have the power - via court order - to pull the plug on the domain name of the site.

This is a classic example of killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer. Or maybe the appropriate metaphor is killing a mosquito with a box of plastic explosives.

It is, in a single word, censorship. And that's why, despite the co-sponsorship of 40 Senators, Senator Ron Wyden has vowed to "stand on the Senate floor for as long as it takes to lay out why the Internet is so important and what we have got do to change this bill to make sure it remains fair, open and free."

Six months ago, Wyden successfully placed a hold on the bill. But the bill is back, and now he's talking filibuster.

On the floor, Senator Wyden intends to read the names of opponents that sign on at - a petition started by Demand Progress. (Haven't heard the latest numbers, but as of noon Monday - just three hours in - the petition was up to 20,000 signers. Update: Early Tuesday morning, the petition cleared the 50,000 signature mark, with several thousand an hour coming in.)

Just how bad is this bill? It would probably kill every site that relies on user-generated content - including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, eBay, and YouTube. And it may very well stand a chance of shutting down Google and other search engines. And that's why the leaders of all of those companies have issued strong statements of opposition.

Why? Because those sites would be forced to proactively review every single bit of content that enters their system. Rather than relying on reports or complaints to identify offending content, the punishment for failure to review is so draconian that advance review will be required.

And that's just an overwhelming and nearly impossible task. Furthermore, that level of human review would represent an extraordinary violation of personal privacy, unprecedented in its scope and invasiveness. (And what of China? How exactly do we stand against the censorship of the "Great Firewall" if we're building an Internet Blacklist of our own?) (Not to mention that is appears that the technical requirements of this bill would undermine emerging technologies designed to effectively stop viruses, malware, and phishing dead in their tracks.)

Here's to Senator Wyden - standing up for freedom and against censorship. It's fights like these that make me proud to have been associated with him since I was an intern nearly twenty years ago.

(Want to learn more? There's a great summary, chock-a-block with links, at Derek Bambauer's blog on Information Law at Harvard Law School.)

Sign on to the Stop Censorship petition (and get your name read on the Senate floor!) at

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    Full disclosure: My firm built Senator Wyden's campaign website. I speak only for myself.

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    The internet is revolutionizing communication in like manner that the printing press revolutionized the world in/around 1440. The internet is also revolutionizing democracy.

    There are powerful forces that stand to lose in the face of open communication and democracy, and those forces are trying very, very hard to stop this revolution. Thank you to Senator Ron Wyden and other courageous law makers who are willing to stand up to these anti-democratic forces.

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    Great job on this one Senator Wyden.

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    Just signed and sent to a bunch of people. Go get 'em, Senator!

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    I signed this. But I'm wondering why other blogs I've visited are not publicizing this.

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    Thank you, Kari, for bringing this stellar effort on Wyden's part to the readers. Wondering why other blogs you have visited, Bill, are not publicizing this is a good start. Now, wonder with me why this legislation has been voted out of a committee controled by Democrats. Wonder still further why Cass Sunstein, White House information advisor is calling for the criminalization of so-called conspiracy theories. Like for instance that Oswald didn't act alone. Or the banking industry paid five billion dollars in lobbying to achieve the removal of Glass-Steagall. Or that the Gulf of Tonkin was a lie.

    It is so dangerous for the people to see police use military grade pepper spray on peaceful students sitting quietly. When a few claim that they attacked the police and that demonstrations of the first amendment are just wrong. Right Bill?

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      Well, you like to conflate your issues, don't you? I thought this blog post was about rules of internet regulation, and not about conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination.

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    Like filling cruise missiles with pepper spray and launching them at UC-Davis #OccupyMosquito protest.

    We've done every other possible combo of UC-Davis, pepper spray, and the fat police Lt. online this week. Can't ignore this.

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    Wyden has been good on the internet and continues to be.

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    Thank you, Senator Wyden.

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    March 4, 1789 Bill of Rights: Amendment 1 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Yup, Bill I have conflated press to the internet. Guilty.


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