There is a bill floating around Congress, that can have large implications on the freedom of speech and opens the door to government censorship. This bill is called COICA, Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. The title presents a noble cause, but the real meat is in the details.

COICA creates two US attorney general controlled blacklists: one mandatory, and one “strongly suggested”. ISPs are required to block traffic going to any site on these blacklists. And although the purpose is to block access to piracy sites, it would basically be a government controlled list of which sites US citizens are not allowed to visit.

There are several problems with the bill and the processes described in it:

  • There is no due process to be put on the list or get removed from it. If I would piss off someone in government, or with the right connections in the US Attorney General’s office, I can find my website blocked.
  • There are existing ways to take down sites that do illegal things. If you’re distributing illegal copies of software, there are provisions in the law to shut you down. The bill itself refers to a Trademark act dated 1946
  • If I wanted to get to a certain site, I could set up a proxy in another country, and bypass the blacklist completely. That is, until that proxy is blocked.
  • If is blocked, there is nothing that would prevent the owners from setting up,, etc. So it would immediately bypass the blacklist, with only minimal disruptions in their ‘service’.

Apart from these problems, there are several bad implications of this:

  • It only hurts people who follow the law. Like I said, if I want to get to illegal content, I’ll bypass it by using a proxy.
  • It gives the Attorney General a power that’s comparable to China’s blocking of parts of the internet. And we all know how good that works…
  • It is driven by commercial interests (think RIAA) and not so much public good (although we’ll hear the child porn argument before the day is over). Right now the focus of the bill is copyright infringement. But to get the bill passed quickly, there may be additional targets named: Child Porn, Porn in General, Gay Porn, Sites That Oppose Government Actions, etc.

Demand Progress is discussing COICA, and encourages people to sign their petition. Tim Berners-Lee is speaking out against it. Steve Gibson is dissecting it in Security Now episode 268.

It seems like this bill was driven by the then-upcoming mid-term elections, but don’t let your guard down when Congress resumes in January!