Congress Once Again Tries to Kill the Internet

Ahhh. It's just a few weeks until the start of spring. I can't wait for all of the changes this brings, especially the return of all the green and growing things. Of course, other, less welcome things also seem to be returning with spring. Among these unwelcome things is the return of incredibly stupid, shortsighted and dangerous laws from representatives in Congress. The latest doozy to be put forth by our legislative representatives is the Internet SAFETY Act, aka, the Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth Act. (Speaking of which, who comes up with these acronyms?).

Jim RapozaAhhh. It's just a few weeks until the start of spring. I can't wait for all of the changes this brings, especially the return of all the green and growing things.

Of course, other, less welcome things also seem to be returning with spring. Among these unwelcome things is the return of incredibly stupid, shortsighted and dangerous laws from representatives in Congress.

The latest doozy to be put forth by our legislative representatives is the Internet SAFETY Act, aka, the Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth Act. (Speaking of which, who comes up with these acronyms?).

Given that torturous acronym, the intended goal of this bill is to make it easier for law enforcement to find and track online law breakers, specifically online predators and child pornographers. But like all bad technology-oriented bills, its reach would be much greater and much more destructive.

What would this bill do? Well, first, it would basically force everyone to save two years of logs of Internet use of their connections. And that means everyone, including ISPs, libraries, coffee shops and you, Mr. Home Internet User with a Wi-Fi router in your house.

Ok, this is incredibly stupid and will cause lots of additional costs and administrative nightmares for everyone. But it isn't even close to the worst thing about this bill. That's because the Internet SAFETY Act could actually shut down the key growth areas of the modern Web.

How does it do this? Well, one part of the bill makes it illegal to do anything that facilitates access to child pornography, with penalties that include large fines and jail time.

After looking at the text of the bill, many large ISPs and other technology watchdogs have pointed out that this could be easily construed as providing e-mail, online storage or any cloud-based service.

You know the cloud, that whole thing that many are relying on to drive the economy and technology forward. It could be killed by one stupid bill.

Worst of all, the ability of this bill to stop Internet crime seems limited at best. Also, right around the time this bill was introduced, the results of a massive study on online predators that was initiated by the attorney generals of most states were released. Interestingly, the study found that the threat of online predators has been greatly exaggerated and that the main online threat to kids is bullying by other kids.

So let's kill the Internet to stop an online threat that doesn't appear to be as bad as many thought it was. From looking at the attorney general report, one thing that does seem clear is that the Internet has made it much easier to catch potential predators, with the majority of the known incidents being predators who contacted police officers who were pretending to be youths. Another interesting element of the report is that the main threat area where predators are found online is chat rooms and IM, not social networks.

But even if the threat of online predators were as large as the authors of this bill believe, I'm not sure this bill would help much in their discovery. Of course, that doesn't mean it wouldn't be used in other areas.

My cynical guess is that if this law does pass, its main use will be stopping file sharing, movie downloads and other non-predatory crimes. I'm pretty sure that if one looks, they'll find RIAA, MPAA and other interests wholeheartedly supporting this bill.

Right now, the Internet SAFETY Act has just been introduced. We can hope that it won't ever see the light of day on the floor of Congress, but whenever a bill says it's about protecting the children, its chances of passing is usually high. (To read the bills directly, look for S.436 in the Senate and H.R.1076 in the House.)

But maybe this bill would actually work because if it essentially destroys the Internet so that no one uses it, I guess that would make the Internet a lot safer.