Blacklisting Provisions Remain in Stop Online Piracy Act

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, right, accompanied by Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

(This post was updated at 9:45 p.m. EST. No vote to move the bill to the House floor was taken. The marathon hearing finished at 9:30 p.m. EST, and is to resume at 10 a.m. EST on Friday.)

The House Judiciary Committee debated the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act for hours Thursday — and despite protracted criticism of the bill from the nation’s leading internet engineers and companies, lawmakers repeatedly rejected attempts to water-down the bill.

About five hours into the 11-hour hearing, the committee voted 22-12 to reject an amendment that would do away with the bill’s most controversial provision that lets the Attorney General order changes to core internet infrastructure in order to stop copyright infringement.

Despite that vote, members on both sides of the political aisle also expressed reservations that the internet-blacklisting legislation was moving too fast.

“I would just ask: Why is there this rush?” Rep. Dan Lungren (R-California) said. He mentioned there were exigent circumstances when lawmakers approved the Patriot Act weeks after 9/11, but none existed here. “For the life of me, I can’t understand it.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) had similar thoughts, and added that the measure went too far. “We never tried to filter the telephone networks to block illegal content on the telephone network, yet that is precisely what this legislation would do relative to the internet.”

The legislation’s most vocal backers are the recording and movie studios, who say online piracy is killing their business. The measure’s detractors are civil liberties groups and internet architects who say the bill amounts to censorship and a fundamental alteration of the internet itself.

At the outset Thursday, lawmakers demanded that the entire 70-plus-page bill be read into the record. It took a House clerk an hour to read Rep. Lamar Smith’s SOPA bill, which is an amended version of legislation he introduced last month.

“While the internet should be free, it should not be lawless,” Smith, the committee’s chairman from Texas, said.

The measure effectively grants private companies the ability to de-fund websites they allege to be trafficking in unauthorized copyright and trademark goods. The latest version requires a judge’s signature to order ad networks and banks to stop doing business with a site “dedicated” to infringing activities.

What’s more, SOPA originally required ISPs to alter records in the net’s system for looking up website names, known as DNS, so that users couldn’t navigate to the site. Under Smith’s amendment, ISPs would not be required to introduce false information into DNS at the urging of the Justice Department, but they would be mandated to employ some method to prevent American citizens from visiting infringing sites. ISPs, could, for instance, adopt tactics used by the Great Chinese Firewall to sniff for traffic going to a blacklisted site and simply block it.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) urged panelists to remove the DNS and firewall aspects of the bill.

Rep. Mel Watt (D-North Carolina) said he was not a technological “nerd,” but said he did not “believe” security experts who said that the internet would become less secure unless Issa’s amendment was adopted. “I’m not a person to argue about the technology of this,” Watt said before he voted against the amendment. Issa’s amendment failed 22-12.

Stewart Baker, the former policy director of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a paper that he believed SOPA was dangerous, as do some of the internet’s founders.

“The US government has regularly claimed that it supports a free and open internet, both domestically and abroad. We cannot have a free and open Internet unless its naming and routing systems sit above the political concerns and objectives of any one government or industry,” wrote 83 prominent internet engineers, including Vint Cert, John Gilmore and L. Jean Camp.

At last month’s hearing on the bill and on Thursday’s, not one technical expert was called to testify. Many lawmakers urged Smith to continue the hearing to enable the committee to hold another hearing with technical experts. Smith declined.

No vote was taken on whether to send the measure to the House floor as lawmakers debated for nearly 12 hours a host of amendments. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) proposed a measure that the pornography industry would not enjoy the Justice Department protections of the measure. He said the Justice Department “should protect pornographers last.” That amendment failed, with nine members favoring and 18 against.

Chairman Smith recessed action about 9:30 p.m. EST, saying the hearing would resume at 10 a.m. EST time Friday.

“It’s going to be a long day tomorrow,” he said.

Earlier in the day, lawmakers also defeated an amendment that would have excluded universities and research institutions from having to blacklist sites. So that means those institutions would be included in Justice Department orders demanding Internet Service Providers like AT&T and Comcast to block their customers from visiting infringing sites.

The legislation also gives legal immunity to financial institutions and ad networks that choose to boycott “rogue” sites even without having been ordered to do so.

Smith’s measure, as amended, also clarifies that sites ending in .com, .org and .net are not covered by the bill. Only foreign sites fall under the revised SOPA’s wrath.

Graphic: DonkeyHotey/Flickr

WikiLeaks in Court: What to Look for in Bradley Manning’s Hearing

Bradley Manning

When WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning enters a military courtroom in Ft. Meade on Friday he’ll face a military investigator bent on demonstrating that the young soldier committed grave violations of law by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified and sensitive U.S. government documents.

After more than 18 months in pre-trial confinement, the 23-year-old former Army intelligence analyst will get his day in court at the so-called Article 32 hearing, which will determine whether the evidence against him merits the case proceeding to a full court-martial. ( will be covering the hearing gavel-to-gavel.)

Likely included in the military’s case are a series of chat logs between Manning and ex-hacker Adrian Lamo, in which Manning allegedly confesses that, as an act of conscience, he gave WikiLeaks a trove of U.S. diplomatic cables, two large databases containing war reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, a cache of reports on prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay prison and a video of an Army attack that killed Iraqi civilians and two Reuters employees.

The logs, first reported by when we broke the news of Manning’s arrest last year, suggest that the emotionally troubled soldier lacked a support system in the Army or personal life, and reached out to Lamo in search of a kindred spirit. “I thought I’d reach out to someone who would possibly understand,” he wrote, before confessing to being troubled by gender identity issues, and unloading details about a “mess I created that no-one knows about yet.”


Adrian Lamo, photographed at his parent's house just weeks before turning Manning in. Credit: Ariel Zambelich/

“I can’t believe what I’m confessing to you :’(,” he wrote Lamo, as he described bringing a writable CD into the secure facility where he worked in Iraq and pretending to lip-sync to Lady Gaga music as he downloaded thousands of documents that he subsequently passed to WikiLeaks.

But instead of being the sympathetic ear Manning had hoped to find, Lamo turned the chat logs over to the authorities, saying later, “I wouldn’t have done this if lives weren’t in danger.” Authorities arrested Manning at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq in late May 2010.

Although the military has said it will not seek the death penalty — an option for the most serious accusation of “aiding the enemy” — Manning is now staring down a possible life sentence for 22 charges that include an Espionage Act violation, computer fraud and theft of public property and records. He’s also charged with causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing it would be accessible to the enemy.

U.S.-Funded Internet Liberation Project Finds Perfect Test Site: Occupy D.C.

Occupy D.C. protesters preparing to livestream a solidarity march. Photo: Brendan Hoffman/

When Sascha Meinrath saw the Occupy encampment in D.C., he saw something few others would — a testbed for technology.

Meinrath has been chasing a dream for more than a decade, ever since he was a liberal arts grad student in Urbana, Illinois: community wireless networks. From that small beginning, Meinrath now runs a State Department-funded initiative to create an Internet in a Suitcase — the Voice of America of the digital age.

If he has his way, Meinrath’s project will lead to low-cost, easy-to-use wireless connections around the globe, all lashed together in mesh that can withstand the whims of dictators willing to pull the plug on the internet to quash dissent. He and a team of software engineers are developing open-source software to turn cheap wireless access points and Android smartphones into nodes on the network, which could then be used by dissidents to evade censorship and to spread low-cost connections everywhere around the world. Proponents of the plan include the U.S. State Department, which has given Meinrath a $2 million grant to develop the code.

“This started due to massive naiveté,” said Meinrath, whose official title is Director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative. “I had no idea of the complexity of solving these problems.”

Before getting funding, Meinrath and his team of collaborators had been building various community networks for years, including a post-Katrina emergency connection network that spanned three states. Community wireless networks in the U.S. have generally failed to find acceptance, but massive scale networks are possible, says Meinrath, pointing to examples in Spain and Greece which are home to networks with thousands of nodes.

With the emergence of an Occupy encampment in the nation’s capital, Meinrath found a nearly perfect testbed for the pre-alpha software — the site is weather-challenged, and full of internet-hungry individuals constantly trying to update social networking sites and make their own media. Exactly like what happened in the Arab Spring.

No BEAST Fix From Microsoft In December Patch Tuesday – But They Fixed Duqu Bug

It looks like Microsoft originally had a patch for the BEAST vulnerability, but for some reason they have withdrawn it for the December Patch Tuesday. It’s a pretty bumper crop of patches though with 13 bulletins and 19 vulnerabilities fixed, the highest profile one being a patch for the zero-day vulnerability exploited by Duqu. The [...]

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