The following is a letter I've sent to my representation as a result of attempts to institute abstract internet censorship laws in our federal legislation. I would like to urge others to consider this an important matter and to contact your representatives as well. I understand that the internet is being used for illegal activity, just as the postal service and cars are, but the generalized powers presented by these bills are a clear violation of the trust given us by the founders of this great country. Without further adieu, my letter was as follows:
I am a constituent and I urge you to reject S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act, and S. 978, "A bill to amend the criminal penalty provision for criminal infringement of a copyright."
In my last letter expressing my dissatisfaction with S. 968 I was told you "share [my] concerns about the protection of digital information and the importance of free speech, as it relates to digital access," though I am compelled to believe that you don't. See, I'm not "concerned" about free speech, I absolutely *demand* that it be protected. It is the most sacred tenant of all American values. Your consolation mentioned that PROTECT IP "is aimed at overseas websites involved in online piracy and infringement," and, while that may be your impression of the bill or how it has been presented by lobbyists, the language within expresses no such specific intent and we both know that enforcement of the law comes down to verbiage, regardless of the perceived intent. Even supposing the wording were particular to foreign communications I still heartily disagree at this attempt to implement censorship on the greatest informational resource humanity has ever known, the strength of which is based solely on the open exchange of information around the world. It is a violation of the first amendment and the spirit of America, sets a bad precedent and is generally hypocritical after statements both we as a people and our president have separately made regarding China’s internet policies. You stated “S. 968 would expand the authority of the Attorney General by allowing that office to investigate, with the use of a search warrant, foreign websites that have been accused of intellectual property theft and take action against those sites that are engaged in these illegal activities.” I assume you realize the Attorney General has no jurisdiction in any country besides the United State and that no act of congress can change that. There are already copyright/patent treaties in place that facilitate the cooperation of other nations with US intellectual property concerns and any further development should be subject to diplomacy, not abstract local laws. Subpoenas may already be obtained in regard to specific allegations of intellectual property violations, as you seem to acknowledge when you say “these illegal activities,” and since this is a civil matter it doesn’t belong in criminal courts wasting more of our time and taxes when we could be focusing on murders and other crimes that impact the liberty and welfare of the majority.
As for S. 978, the provisions in the bill would allow the government to lock up Americans for streaming videos or music online, and is so overly broad that people who post videos of their friends singing karaoke could be prosecuted. This legislation is a tremendous overreach and I am deeply concerned by the danger it poses to Internet freedom. The fact that these bills are even being considered is setting a poor example for legislation and any support to criminalizing civil disputes will only serve to rationalize further debasement of our constitution and legal systems. I pay for several legally licensed internet media providers myself and it’s not my responsibility to pay additionally for the legal expenses associated with criminal courts, jails or prisons for a matter that can be settled civilly at the expense of guilty parties.
It may not be a Florida or national law, but are you aware that vague amendments to Tennessee harassment law have recently made it a crime fit for incarceration to post images on the internet that could be perceived as offensive? While blatantly unconstitutional, under this law nearly every person that has ever posted an image on the internet could be considered a criminal. The American flag is offensive to some, but should it be illegal for a patriot to post an image of it on Facebook? Can nobody use satire in the state of Tennessee for fear that they’ll be put in jail due to a difference of opinion?! Every newspaper with a website and every TV program with an internet presence are now, by definition of the law, potentially criminal in the state of Tennessee. There are civil and criminal measures against malicious activity and harassment already in place and there is no need for such convoluted laws to abridge freedom of speech or press. People are not obligated to participate in web communities that offend them; if they wish to institute censorship they can start their own services and place limits in the usage agreement. Think carefully about the precedent you set for American politics as you continue to entertain legislation that criminalizes behavior in broad generalizations, especially for the sake of circumstances with legitimate and constitutional recourse already established. Benjamin Franklin said “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and loose both.” I think our founding fathers would be appalled at the mockery being made of their system. If you will continue to disagree with my stance have some dignity and pride in your choice: give me your opinion candidly rather than your patronizing attempt to convince me that you share my concerns when you don’t. Instead just tell me how my opinion is not that of the majority of those you represent or, better yet, that you’d prefer to support multi-million dollar corporations rather than my civil liberties.
The response I refer to above is below, though sadly I don't have my original message any more:
Dear Mr. [Omitted],
Thank you for taking the time to contact me with regards to the PROTECT IP Act of 2011 (S. 968).
I share your concerns about the protection of digital information and the importance of free speech, as it relates to digital access. As technology evolves, more Americans utilize the Internet to explore new ideas and access information. We must ensure the Internet continues to be a dynamic environment that produces the innovations and advancements that we have all come to enjoy.
As you may know, S. 968, introduced by Senator Leahy, is aimed at overseas websites involved in online piracy and infringement. If passed, S. 968 would expand the authority of the Attorney General by allowing that office to investigate, with the use of a search warrant, foreign websites that have been accused of intellectual property theft and take action against those sites that are engaged in these illegal activities. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 968 on May 26, 2011, and the bill currently awaits action on the Senate floor. If S. 968 comes up for a vote in the Senate, I will carefully evaluate all sides of this issue and work to strike a balance between the exchange of information and the protection of intellectual identity.
I will continue to keep your thoughts in mind as I make decisions that are important to you. I appreciate your opinions and I will continue to work to address the issues that are important to the people of Florida.