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Break In Case Of Censorship: What Are Our Free Speech Fail-safes If SOPA Passes?

As I’m writing this, Congress is getting ready to vote on the single most destructive piece of legislation that the internet has ever faced.

by Janus Rose
Dec 15 2011, 5:00am

As I'm writing this, Congress is getting ready to vote on the single most destructive piece of legislation that the internet has ever faced. SOPA, penned by a team of corporate shills who now have swell lobbyist jobs to show for it, is a bill aimed at combating online piracy in the worst conceivable way possible: By giving copyright holders and the government overreaching, due process-circumventing powers to shut down entire websites based on the mere suspicion that they might contain infringing material.

Worst of all, it's already happening. Even before the bill has come to vote, censorship shenanigans have already been demonstrated by Universal, who fraudulently removed a music video by that voiced opposition to SOPA. Now, imagine what will happen when SOPA is in full-swing and all of YouTube is held liable for bogus copyright claims … or Etsy, or Flickr.

Of course that says nothing of the countless technologists who have warned SOPA's China-style DNS blocking will seriously fuck up the internet in general, so it's really not hyperbolic to say that this is the worst nightmare of a democratic and stable internet. So the question on everyone's mind right now is what kind of free speech fail-safes exist if and when SOPA (and its twin in the Senate, PROTECT-IP) passes? Although we can't guarantee that they will be 100 percent legal, here are a couple of them:


The first is an extremely simple and dirty hack: Because SOPA's provisions call for the re-routing of DNS (the web's addressing system that links browsers with the computer hosting a site), the websites will still be there — you just won't be able to get to them via the usual "www dot com" method. If a site gets blocked, typing the IP address of the host directly (eg: would connect you to that site. The downside: This creates a lot of security risks for the site in question. The fact that DNS exists in part to mask these addresses from the average user should tell you something.


Tor is what some would call a "darknet," a network that runs under the radar of the normal internet and can only be accessed using special client software. By connecting to the Tor network, you are anonymizing and encrypting your browsing activity by making your IP address appear as that of a random node somewhere else on the network. And since that random node will typically be outside of the United States, you won't be getting routed away from sites the copyright elite have deemed "infringing."

It's scary to think that Tor might become an option for some Americans, seeing as how it's been previously used to subvert censorship in places like China and Syria. But even with web traffic fully anonymized and virtually untraceable, it's not merely a "censorship off" button and there are risks involved if you don't know what you're doing. Additionally, securing the means of connecting to (and obtaining information about) the Tor network could become a lot more difficult for newcomers if Tor's website gets blocked. And moreover, doing so would likely be illegal under SOPA on grounds that it is exists to subvert the filtering system being put in place.

The Bitcoin "Dimnet"

Dot.Bit is another hidden network similar to Tor but operating off a system of encrypted "tokens," acquired in a way very much like Bitcoins, the decentralized digital currency system . Potentially a boon for sites that want to run outside the reach of the censor, Dot.Bit allows these tokens to be used in order to anonymously register domains under its network, which are accessed under the Top-level Domain (TLD) .bit

This seems like a great idea, but even .bit domains run the risk of being targeted under SOPA. If the law requires ISPs to block access, it would be a simple matter of cutting off the ports that those domains run on. And if those domains are involved in shady black market dealings like the rest of the Bitcoin network, they'll have ample reason to do so.

All in all, the options are either incredibly abstruse, risky or likely to become illegal anyway. But one thing is for certain: SOPA and PROTECT-IP's 'killing spiders with a sledgehammer' strategy isn't going to smash piracy — it's just going to make the internet a lot messier.

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