Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Episode 20: The dirty business of cleaning the Cloud with SOPA

SOPA has become the pariah term for the Internet in recent weeks. In the US, mass lobbying from internet users made it more undesirable than a fart in a spacesuit, & that is saying something. However, the day after the January 18th protests, MegaUpload was taken down by the FBI, citing fraud, money laundering, racketeering, & its founders arrested in New Zealand, pending extradition to the US to face those charges.

Over a week later, the FBI is seeking to confiscate all MegaUpload data that was held on US based servers, whether legitimate or not, & the owners of legitimate data have little to no indication if or even when they will have their property returned to them.

In Ireland, a statutory instrument is being sought for implementation by the music industry there under threat of legal action against the state following the unsuccessful suit by EMI Ireland against Internet Service Provider, UPC, where the judgement laid down that instructions to block sites, and or force disconnections of offending users could not be achieved due to a gap in legislation.

That 'gap' in legislation was due to be plugged last week, were it not for a steam-train of lobbying by Irish Internet users in the 'Stop SOPA Ireland' campaign, which raised the alarm to industry, & internet users alike. It also prompted the Irish Internet Service Providers Association to issue a strongly worded letter against the proposed statutory instrument. ALTO, who represent a group of telecoms companies, also set forward their view opposing the change in law in its current form.

The issue with the secondary legislation due to be passed was the vagueness of how it could/would be used, leaving interpretation wide open to the judiciary, no clear indication of how costs of such challenges would be met (or by who), along with even going so far as having such vagueness to possibly effect the likes of Google, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn & others who operate in Ireland, as no clear-cut guarantees could be given to them not coming under threat from it.

All of which led to over 77,000 signatures on a petition against the legislation in its current form, hundreds of thousands of emails to politicians, calls, on street demonstrations & for the first time, having secondary legislation becoming subject to an open debate in parliament chambers.

The intense increase with which such 'seizure' legislation is being sought worldwide completely undermines the viability of Cloud Computing, as the legislation being sought is often extremely on-sided, does not seek to ensure that access to legitimate information is protected while also allowing the wheels of law to engage against infringing data.

Those seeking the legislation (the movie, music & entertainment industries) claim it is needed to protect their business, while caring nothing for the businesses that will be caught in the crossfire, many of whom will be small to medium enterprises, which will not have resources to extricate themselves from the legal salvos on both sides, while their business suffers.

What is worse is the fact that Governments who are trying to stem the bleed of small business failures are doing nothing to recognise this, or recognise the impact on innocent parties. Even the organisations who represent small business seem to turn a blind eye to this, & don't seem to care how they could in fact one morning as a result of some action being taken wake up to find a membership out of business simply because they failed to be informed, step in to seek consultation, & drive for that.

There is a very real threat out there to the Internet & cloud computing. It is not piracy. It is not copyright infringement. It is over-zealous politicians eager to not offend rights-holders who seek legislation that is potentially incredibly damaging to the growth of our now globalised information & knowledge society.

No-one is disputing that copyright infringement is wrong. No-one is disputing that piracy does hurt businesses in some way. However, the ideology of American-esque 'shock-and-awe' to solve this problem is unhelpful, self destructive & damaging, & the Cloud will suffer, as will the industries around it, those who depend on it to try keep businesses afloat so they can move forward.

The destruction of the Cloud at the hands of ill-thought, ill-considered, under-debated & consulted anti-piracy measures that are enacted with iron fists will cost more jobs globally than the issue of piracy itself.

Today in Ireland, as we debate the issue of how such legislation needs to be approached, thought & consulted, a country seen as leaders in the Cloud will find its fate determined by a Minister of State under pressure to save face, save costs from a legal action & keep Ireland out of the spotlight. Unfortunately, his actions to date have ensured there is one on Irish Government buildings today, & the outcome from the chamber debate.