Last year, when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) proposed a bill creating an Internet blacklist of sites Americans weren’t allowed to visit (The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act) the response was fast and furious. Over 300,000 people signed Demand Progress’s petition against the bill, joining dozens of human rights activists and hundreds of leading Internet engineers. After Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) called it a “bunker-buster cluster bomb” aimed at the Internet, the bill was dropped and not heard of again.
Until now. In response to this criticism, Leahy changed the bill so that it bans the criticism. The new PROTECT-IP Act retains the censorship components from before, but ads a new one: It bans people from having serious conversations about the blacklisted sites. Under the new bill, anyone “referring or linking” to a blacklisted site is prohibited from doing so and can be served with a blacklist order forcing them to stop.
Earlier this year, the government shut down 84,000 websites by mistake. They were quickly restored thanks to diligent reporters and the online outcry. In February, Bryan McCarthy became the first American ever to be arrested for simply linking to other sites and his website, ChannelSurfing.net, was blocked by the Department of Homeland Security. Demand Progress and other groups expressed outrage and drew public attention to his plight. (He’s still awaiting trial.)
Under the new blacklist bill such reporting — including the paragraph immediately preceding this one — would practically be illegal, since no other sites could refer or link to the blocked domains. It’s akin to the PATRIOT Act gag orders that make it illegal to even talk about the fact you’ve received a PATRIOT Act request, which turned out to let the government cover up thousands of illegal requests. Without the ability to talk about government power, there’s no way for citizens to make sure this power isn’t being misused.
This Internet censorship bill was undemocratic to begin with — saying that Americans can’t visit the same websites as Mexicans or Canadians makes a mockery of the First Amendment, but this new bill is just insane. Leahy’s really gone too far this time and it’s up to us to stop him. You can click here to express your opposition.