White House Responds to Anti-SOPA Petition

1/16/2012

President Obama’s administration has issued a public response to petitions protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response,” said the note, “we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

SOPA, opponents agree, does exactly that — it reeks of censorship, throws unreasonable demands at many online businesses and poses significant technological problems.

“The bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of web sites,” wrote Facebook, Google, Twitter and others in a joint letter sent to key members of the U.S. Senate in November 2011.

The White House’s statement makes it clear that Obama’s administration supports some type of new anti-piracy measure, but points out several flaws in SOPA. Anti-piracy efforts must not inhibit innovation and must guard against censorship, it says. Furthermore, any anti-piracy legislation should not create “new cybersecurity risks” or disrupt the “underlying architecture of the Internet.”

In the original SOPA proposal, DNS requests for websites considered to be hosting content illegally would have been blocked. This was one of the most controversial parts of the bill, but it was recently abandoned by SOPA author Rep. Lamar Smith.

The White House urges “all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders while staying true to the principles outlined .. in this response.”

Finally, the White House promised to invite the organizer of the petition (which collected over 51,000 signatures at the time of this writing) and a sample of the signers to a conference call to “discuss this issue further with Administration officials”. Also, soon after that the White House will host an online event to get more input and answer questions, with more details about the event coming in the following days.

Meanwhile, an anti-SOPA rally in New York is still planned for Wednesday. Many online services, including Reddit and Tucows, will join in with a blackout in protest of SOPA.

The White House statement is signed by Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget Victoria Espinel, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff Howard Schmidt. You can read the entire statement here.

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