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How to kill the Internet

Ominous moves from the US Senate could mean the end of web freedom

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Back in July, Prince, who was formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince (he can flip-flop with the best of 'em), announced that "The Internet is completely over" and continued, "All these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."

Naturally the mainstream press lapped up this nonsense with the likes of MSNBC convening a panel discussion to delve into the elfin musician's prognostications. Having a serious discussion about Prince dissing the Internet is as meaningful as pondering Lindsay Lohan's opinions on string theory, but I digress.

Prince then went and took down his "official" website (for those of you who might enjoy a walk down memory lane with Prince, the Wayback Machine still has snapshots of the site).

I for one feel the loss of this site deeply and the world is a colder, lonelier place for its loss. Indeed, my life may never be the same again and sadly generations will grow up in an online world bereft of instant access to his "Princeness".

Then again, and far more profoundly, those same generations may grow up with many other sites not available because of a new bill working its sorry way through the Senate's Judiciary Committee.

This bill, the "Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act" (COICA), is essentially a way to give the government the ability to shut down or, more accurately, censor any website in the world if it is found to be "dedicated to infringing activities" – a wonderfully vague way of framing the criteria for action.

"Huh?" you may have exclaimed. "How could the US enforce taking down sites worldwide?" The answer, my friends, is by requiring US ISPs and registrars running name servers to not resolve the domain names of the alleged infringing sites.

These domain names would be on a blacklist that would be managed by the Department of Justice and would potentially allow the Attorney General to censor any website, even though no court had found any evidence of copyright infringement or the breaking of any other law.

With this bill in place, we could also then expect the US to pressure other governments such as the British, the Canadians, the French and so on to collaborate. The bill would be a thermonuclear option in international trade politics.


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