Breaking News: People who can’t attach photos to email are legislating about the internet

Written by Tech

Posted from: Beijing

After several years spent with a picket sign in one hand and a brick in the other, these days my political platform typically consists of the word “Meh”. I like to pat myself on the back for being too pessimistic to believe in anything except individual human responsibility. Governments shall rise and fall, shit shall happen, life shall go on. But the more I hear about SOPA and the Protect IP act, the more I sense my withered inner activist shaking off the coils of eternal slumber.

If you’ve never heard of SOPA or Protect IP, here’s the skinny:

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Sad thing is, I think it’s only a matter of time before a bill like SOPA or Protect IP is passed. If it doesn’t happen now, it’ll happen when some unfortunate event occurs that opportunistic legislators can use to make everyone who opposes the bill look bad. The comments section of a website will spark a celebrity suicide, or some kid will download a pirated slasher movie and kill his parents or whatever. Name your tragedy. “We have to do something,” legislators will bluster, and they’ll set about happily paving the road to hell. What’s really kind of amazing is that it hasn’t happened sooner.

So yeah, I think it’s inevitable. But I’m not willing to see it pass without at a hefty dose of public ire.

What is happening in the U.S. right now is vastly egregious. A body of people who can’t answer the question “what is DNS?” are toying with the idea of making fundamental changes to the core operating basis of the net, changes that would effect everyone, every day, in ways that, if you’re a nerd, should certainly scare the crap out of you. If you’re not a nerd, try this on for size: the people responsible for building and approving the IRS website want the power to decide what should and shouldn’t be available online.

And now a quick break for this message by your congresspeople:

Look, legislators, nobody is blaming you guys for not reading the whole bill or doing your research. A) the internet is complicated, b) the Appalachian Trail is really lovely this time of year and c) most bills are thicker than the Wheel of Time series, and God knows when I got to page 5000 of that, it was like, “Call me when Rand picks a girlfriend and let me know how the final battle goes, mmkay?” But here’s the summary: This one is over your head, let it go.

Truth is, Washington, I’m tempted not to give two fucks what you do. Beijing has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into a similar scheme, they have a rumored staff of 50,000 working round-the-clock to stamp out and track down any offenders, and yet it took me 45 minutes to set up a permanent path around the blockade. Most people know how to, as it’s called here, “climb the wall”.

So good luck with that. It will take your 10-year-olds approximately seven seconds to figure out how to create or log onto a distributed darknet and download or share whatever pirated media they want. You will still be paying $1000 a ticket to attend conferences about the exciting new world of social networking. By the time you hear about said darknets – or whatever alternative work-around everyone’s using – and whip the tut-tutting mothers of America into a tizzy of terror about them, everyone I care about will be communicating through telepathic bio implants. In the meantime, you’ll continue to flail around in increasing frustration as you throw untold amounts of money at turning site administrators into criminals, and making technology that much more of a pain in the asshole to use for only those Americans who don’t understand it – including yourselves.

Clap. Clap. Clap.

So, on one hand, your little regulatory commissions are kind of sad. But this isn’t about my ability to figure out how to ignore you. This is about my clients, who want to build their businesses by using their own websites as platforms for open communication, without being afraid of some lawsuit-hungry psycho with an internet connection. And this is about you taking all those good intentions and sinking them into a solution that doesn’t do more harm than good, instead of kissing special interest RIAA butt.

The internet, in its current lightly regulated state, is preciousssss to me. It’s the only wonder of the world that anyone can take a chisel to, participate in, and make their own. Yes, it comes with risks, copyright infringement, and really gross porn. But if you take the one, you take the other. Sorry – that’s how the First Amendment works.

Scarily, the right course of action here is the one thing that makes legislators feel powerless and grumpy, which is to do nothing. The solution is to do nothing. Quietly and without ruckus check the “veto” box, and then refuse to entertain even the suggestion of altering the fundamental ways we share information. Tell the RIAA to stop whining for government intervention and change their business model to fit the modern world like everyone else. Do not create a consolation-prize type bill that says basically the same thing as SOPA, but is called something else. Do not become politically skittish in the face of some horrible accident. Just do what a good government is supposed to do, which is facilitate smooth trade, increase the quality of life for your citizens, and foster innovation and peace.

But if you must legislate about something tech-related, why don’t you talk about allocating some funds for state governments to conduct and implement usability studies on their DMV websites. That’s something Americans could get behind.

Everyone else, if you’d care to tell your representatives to back off, you can do it here: