The House Judiciary Committee debated the Stop Online Piracy Act and a multitude of proposed amendments on Dec. 15. The committee is set to resume debate on Dec. 16, and no final vote has been taken on the bill.
If passed, SOPA would result in creating a “blacklist” of sites selling or distributing copyrighted content. Companies who believe a site is infringing on their copyright can get a judge to sign an order that would require advertising networks and payment processors to stop serving those sites and Internet service providers to stop letting users access those sites. The bill has been widely supported by the record and movie industries but opposed by civil liberties groups and several major Internet companies, such as Google and Facebook.
The legislation gives legal immunity to financial institutions and ad networks that choose to boycott “rogue” sites even without having been ordered to do so. It also does not affect sites ending in .com, .org or .net. Only sites registered in other countries would be subject to SOPA.
“Laws equip U.S. authorities and rights holders to take action against criminals who operate within our borders. But there is no parallel authority that permits effective action against criminals who operate from abroad,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the bill’s sponsor and committee chairman said in an opening statement.
In the markup, lawmakers read the entire bill, and then debate each amendment and vote to accept or reject it. When the process is finished, the bill and all the amendments that passed are put to a vote to decide whether to move the bill out of the committee and to the floor for the entire House of Representatives to debate and vote on. There are more than 60 amendments to SOPA, and the committee got through just six on the first day of markup.
During the debate, the committee voted 22-12 to reject an amendment introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif) that would have removed one of the more controversial provisions in the bill, the one that would force changes to core Internet infrastructure. The bill would require ISPs to interfere with how the Domain Name System works when directing users to the Websites they want in order to prevent them from accessing blacklisted sites. ISPs could employ the same tactics used by China in its nation-wide firewall to censor portions of the Internet for its citizens.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) noted that Internet security experts have raised concerns about the bill’s effect on DNSSEC, a set of applications that secure DNS from malicious attacks. “Maybe we ought to ask some nerds about what this really does,” Chaffetz said, adding, “If you don’t know what DNSSEC is, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) said while he wasn’t a “nerd,” he felt security experts were exaggerating the security implications for the Internet if the bill mandated ISPs to tamper with DNS. “I’m not a person to argue about the technology of this,” Watt said. He voted against the amendment.
The committee held hearings on the bill in November, but not one technical expert was called to testify. Many lawmakers urged Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the bill’s sponsor and committee chairman, to hold another hearing with actual technical experts. Smith declined, saying he has “every intention” of going forward “today, tomorrow and however long it takes.”
Rep. Dan Lungren, (R-Calif.) felt the committee was moving too quickly and should slow down and listen to technical experts. “Why is there this rush to judgment?” Lungren asked. “Why can’t we slow down and take a look?” he asked.
An amendment that would have excluded universities and research institutions from having to take part in blacklisting sites was defeated. It also rejected an amendment proposed by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) that the pornography industry would not be protected. The committee rejected Polis’ amendment 18-9.