So, first let me say that I’m no law expert. I am however something of an IT Pro. IT’s been my career, well, since I graduated High School. IT’s been my hobby, and I guess you could say Passion since long before that. I’ve worked for ISP’s, Web Hosts, and now I’m a member of the IT staff at a respectable small liberal arts college. I’m respected for my skills, opinions, and abilities. I say all of this so that you’ll know who I am and what I know. Which may, or may not, add credibility to what I’m about to write in this blog entry.
I’ve done a bit of reading about the Stop Online Piracy and PROTECT IP Acts today. I’d learned of both of these bills a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve been pretty interested in their progress. I’d like to say that I’m going to give you an unbiased account of this bill and what it proposes, but after what I’ve read today, that’s impossible.
So, let me start by explaining something… DNS. DNS is, essentially, what makes the internet usable by all of us humans that use it. DNS is the Domain Name System. Every end-user on the internet depends on DNS in order to do, well, anything. And most of you probably dont even know it (that is, unless you do know it, in which case, you probably don’t need to read this section of the blog post). Check your e-mail? You’re using DNS. Update your Facebook status, you’re using DNS, read this blog post? You’re using DNS. The web site address here is www.undrground.org, that domain name is just a pointer, to an IP address. See, computers, and in this case, servers, don’t talk to each other using names, they use these IP addresses. Every computer connected to the internet has an IP address, and in almost all cases, a DNS resolvable name as well.
So, your computer needs to know how to translate those names to their corresponding IP addresses. It does this with the assistance of a Domain Name Server. Nameservers are essentially servers which house databases which correlate DNS Names to IP addresses. DNS is distributed across all of these DNS servers, and at the heart of it all are Root Servers. Root servers contain lists of what domain names are served by what nameservers. So, if I ask my nameserver for the ip address of my own domain, it is the autoritative nameserver for my domain, so it just returns the address I’ve told it to return. If I ask it for a domain other than one of mine, it references the root servers, to find out where it can find out the address for the name I’ve asked for. Then it asks that server for the IP address, and then returns it to me. This is exactly how the process works for every single web site you attempt to view. Your computer asks your ISP’s nameserver for the IP address of the server you’re looking for, and then it asks the root servers for the authoritative host for that domain, and gets the IP address. Your computer then connects to the web site by its IP address.
Without DNS, you’d need to remember the IP address of every site you wanted to view. Not to mention some of the more advanced uses of DNS. It all comes back to name resolution, and some of the tricks that it allows. So if I’ve been successful in describing to you how all of this works, you might be able to picture how important DNS is to how the Internet functions. Without solid DNS, things get all confusing. There are also a number of ways that DNS can be used against you, if someone manages to get in between you and your DNS server, they can take all of your requests and send them somewhere else. Say I wanted to get your Facebook password. I could forward your facebook traffic to my own server, and fake a facebook login page. Then just capture what you enter. You see the facebook domain, and assume you’re on facebook.
Why did I just give you a crash course in DNS? (See the Wikipedia entry for lots more information) Because that is exactly what SOPA and PROTECT IP aim to foul up.
The purpose of these bills is to provide a legal way of blocking sites which are deemed illegal. I’m not going to get into who gets to decide they’re illegal right now, I bay delve into that in a bit. This seems well intentioned enough. Basically, if I’m serving pirated software, or more likely copyrighted material, like TV Shows, Movies, or Music, my site can be blocked. The problem here is, blocking sites at this level just isn’t something that the current infrastructure is built to accommodate. The most logical way to do this is to cut off the site at its source. Which would be the provider hosting the site. This is easy enough to do if the site is hosted here in the US. The problem is that many of these sorts of sites are hosted outside of US jurisdiction. US law has no power of them. So the next best method would be to cut off DNS resolution for these sites to US citizens.
According to the bill, blocking “rogue” sites will be done at a DNS level. Here’s the problem with DNS. There isn’t necessarily a central authority. What makes DNS so robust is that there’s no single point of failure. That means that its very redundant, and independent. If you want to block a foreign site, by disabling its dns, you pretty much have your hands tied. You cant tell the registrar to drop it because they’re not bound by US law, and chances are whoever’s hosting DNS for that site isn’t either. So how do you do it? You tell all of the _law abiding_ US DNS servers to stop serving that domain.
So, let’s say The Pirate Bay is to be blocked. US law says that all US NameServers are to stop resolving thepiratebay.org to the proper IP address. So this means that the majority of US citizens cant get to The Pirate Bay. So, you have a legally registered domain, which it’s registrar publishes to the Root servers. The root servers point queries to the authoritative (non-us) name servers, and the rest of the US… Ignores it. Yes, this will work. It’s a horrible idea though! DNS works because every DNS server is supposed to respond with the same, PROPER record for each and every domain. There’s some cases where that’s not the case, but for the majority of external, internet based, sites, thats the case. This legislation wants us to break that. Just trample all over the very framework of the internet.
Why don’t I like it?
Some may claim that anyone opposing this bill, does so simply because they like to pirate software, or movies, or music, and don’t want to see that go away. That’s not necessarily the case. I mean, sure, there are probably people out there fighting it for just that reason, but they don’t really have a case imho. They’re breaking the law, and they’re upset because that will become harder to do. The case for me, and most, isn’t that we feel that online piracy shouldn’t be combated, rather that this bill is NOT the right answer. There simply has to be a better way.
Let me point out a few major flaws here. Some of these I’ve deduced on my own, others have been pointed out by other articles I’ve read.
1. The people voting on this bill… Have NO CLUE what they’re voting to do, and they seem to be proud of that fact. They’ve even opted OUT of assembling a panel of experts to review the bill.
2. It wont work. At least, not as they picture it. Blocking DNS may limit the number of people getting to, as in my example earlier, thepiratebay.org. The problem is, it’s easily worked around. They’re not taking the pirate bay offline, they’re just making it harder to find. The site will still be just as accessible by its IP address, just not by its name. It’s like taking down all of the street signs and house addresses, and making people remember latitude and longitude to find peoples houses. Its still possible, its just a little more difficult. On top of that, nothing would stop you from accessing a different DNS server, that still serves dns for the site you’re trying to access. I could setup a DNS server on a cloud provider outside of the US, and use it for all of my queries, and it would be completely exempt from this law. The problem there is, not everyone knows how to run a dns server. So you’ll see rogue dns servers pop up, and the people who run these rogue sites will tell their users to use these rogue DNS servers. The problem is, how can you trust such a server? How do you know they’re not going to muck about and make facebook.com point to some malicious facebook clone that harvests all of your login information?
3. Motivation. They’ll try to tell you that they’re doing this to protect US jobs, and US citizens. It’s bs. They’re doing this because lobbyists from major media companies are pushing them to, but lining their pockets with lots of green paper.
4. Freedom. The internet, for the most part, is free. Its the playground for the tech savvy, and technically inept alike. From Farmville addicts, to lisp coders. Mechanics to electricians. You’re free to say what you like, do what you like, make enemies or friends with who you like, and you can do it anywhere in the world. Start letting the government tell you where you’re allowed to play…. I’m not sure I want to know where that leads.
5. Unintended consequences. Get out your tinfoil hat. This one starts to sound a little more like a conspiracy theory. Imagine that the US government had the power to take down web sites. Imagine that it had the same legal fairness as the rest of our legal system. You know, the system that lets the guy with the deeper pockets walk off of his murder charge. The internet is full of hobbyist bloggers, like me, and huge news outlets. If a takedown order came in for my domain, because of something i blogged about. I’d fight it, but to be honest, I don’t have the money to _really_ fight it. I’ve got a family, a house payment, and all the other obligations that go along with being a citizen. I also DONT have the protection that journalists have. This means that stubborn ideals or not. I just couldn’t fight something like that. MOST bloggers would say the same. I’ve read that there’s wording in this bill that says that any tool designed to circumvent the measures put in place by SOPA, violates SOPA. So, if I wrote a blog entry about some nifty tool that lets you get around SOPA, MY SITE could be considered a tool that helps users get around SOPA. This means that suddenly I have to start censoring what I blog about. Now imagine sites with a community of content creators. Something like reddit, or anything with a message forum. If one of the users, not even affiliated with the sites management, posts a link to a tool that circumvents SOPA, now the site’s violating SOPA! That’s rediculous!
I think I’ve said all I can to make my point. Let me just close with this:
Piracy is Illegal. Illegal mean’s it’s against the law…
Laws intended to stop piracy aren’t necesarily bad. They’re trying to uphold the law.
Laws which ignorantly break the internet just because Sony complained that it’s not rich enough, are mindnumbingly stupid.