Talk about shaping up for a fight.
In the Red Corner, Representative Lamar Seeligan Smith (R-TX), with his inflammatory new bill, "Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011" (H.R. 1981). It might as well be called the "Are You Against Pedophilia Or Not Act" -- the name is clearly designed to create support through intimidation. The full text is here.
In the Blue Corner (or red and black, if you think they should wear the traditional colors of international anarchism), Anonymous, threatening to shut down the Internet altogether on March 31, in protest against such legislative bullying.
I have to say, while deploring law breaking, my sympathy on this occasion leans toward the vandals. Let's look at what Representative Smith is threatening us with.
For one thing, this bill would require all ISPs to retain our IP records for at least 18 months, and thus -- says the Electronic Freedom Foundation -- our browsing histories:
The Internet Protocol (IP) address assigned to your cable modem by your cable company, or to your laptop by a wireless router, can be used to identify who visited particular websites or posted particular content online -- threatening your right to privately browse the web and to speak and read anonymously when you're online. Mandatory data retention would force your Internet Service Provider to create vast and expensive new databases of sensitive information about you.
Who can get access to this information? The government, predictably enough -- without court oversight -- oh, and potentially civil litigants, too, through a process of discovery. If the records exist, there are ways to obtain them.
To be fair to Rep. Smith, for a moment, the bill does address some serious issues, proposing, for example, increased penalties for possession of child pornography. But, to mix metaphors, mandatory universal surveillance of all and any browsing activity brings an awful lot of bathwater to go with the baby.
Activists for a free Internet are raging against the bill, claiming that the child pornography provisions are a "fig leaf" for its true purpose. Anonymous has started a Twitter campaign, #UnseatLamar.
Not that more fuel needs to be thrown on the Anonymous file. Already this month, in a paroxysm of fury against bankers, SOPA, Wall Street, politicians, and the world in general, a purported post by Anonymous on Pastebin.com outlined a plan to bring down the 13 DNS root servers of the Internet on March 31 this year, using a DDoS tool to overwhelm the servers with queries from spoofed IP addresses.
Feasible? In a world where the Department of Homeland Security is warning that Anonymous is close to developing the capability to take down parts of the nation's critical infrastructure, you have to say... well, maybe. The loosely affiliated group has certainly been warming up, with a series of attacks on stock exchanges, the FTC, and the Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Of course, the March 31 plan, as Anonymous itself emphasizes, won't "break" the Internet. That's not the objective. But a full day without Twitter, without Facebook, without Angry Birds? It will seem like Armageddon in comparison with the modest self-darkening of sites like Wikipedia and Reddit on January 18.
Anonymous has taken a statement of Benjamin Franklin's as its slogan for March 31: "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither." There are good reasons to criticize Anonymous's methods, of course, but looking at H.R. 1981, you have to admit that Franklin's words seem apt.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution