18 Jan 2012
I suppose in the era of Wikileaks the leader of an international NGO shouldn't be surprised to receive a leaked email from an incarcerated dictator written to the ranking members of the US House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Still, you can imagine our shock at Meedan when we read the following letter from Hosni Mubarak.
RE: S.968, Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act and H.R.3261, Stop Online Piracy Act
Dear Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Conyers:
I hope you do not mind hearing input from a non-constituent on the matter of S. 968 and H.R. 3261, PIPA and SOPA as they are known, but recognizing the global reach of the internet and my given personal experience shutting down the Egyptian internet I thought I should add my voice to your debate.
First, let me commend you on the initial scope and form of the SOPA and PIPA bills. I have ‘+1’d,’ ‘liked,’ and ‘fav’d’ them on the walls of my prison cell. What do I like about SOPA? The question is, What don’t I like?!!? :)
You must realize that the only real problem with my internet shutdown tactic was that I underestimated the extent to which the ordinary Egyptian citizens had grown accustomed to a working internet. I imagine SOPA will create an internet that will function more like a Cairo highway - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Expectations are lowered to a point where a bit of downtime in the interest of preserving a dictator’s run is not such a big deal.
I also commend the legal loophole that will enable you to pull down individual sites without notice so long as a well-paid lawyer can file the form letter that asserts “immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result...before the adverse party can be heard in opposition.” I could drive a camel through that loophole - or, rather, I could pay some camel driving thugs with clubs to do so.
But what I really, really love is the provision that will essentially criminalize the use, distribution, and even online trainings related to proxy, privacy, and anonymization software. Yes! Really, with tools like these accessible to anyone with a web connection, how is a dictator supposed to get the daily work done? How does one go about repressing, censoring, and intimidating a population when a distributed global community of young hackers are able to develop and share this open source software?
I thought it would take a dictator to outlaw those pesky tools. What a dupe I was. Arguably, I would have still been in power if I had just invited the MPAA and RIAA lawyers to write and enforce my internet privacy and security policies. LOL.
Lastly, let me say - as one politician to another - we must not underestimate the danger of having too much information moving too freely. While we have all done pretty well with global trade of goods, the global trade of knowledge and information (not even considering the way ideas can evolve with online collaborations) is a great danger to the status quo. What does SOPA/PIPA do for us here? The brilliant provision to grant service providers immunity for provisionally blocking identified ‘blacklisted’ sites - the so-called ‘vigilante provision’- is not only a brilliant way to protect your friends in Hollywood it is a boon to dictatorial regimes the world over, providing us an open door to keeping the internet more uniform and less diverse.
I could imagine my information minister drafting a similar law that 'encouraged' our local ISPs to make the Egyptian internet more Egyptian. Bring on the blacklists. What is particularly interesting is to imagine how laws crafted by governments to provide competitive advantage to their economies and ideologies will put an end to dangerous cross-border exchanges of ideas and knowledge. You keep your ideas, we keep ours.
In closing, while I am grateful for the billions of dollars of support over the years I am even more grateful for the long-term implications of the SOPA/PIPA legislation. I am saddened that my time in power coincided with this short-lived experiment in an open internet, but I take some comfort knowing that my children and their children might be able to control societies without having to contend with the scourge of an open internet.
Keep up the great work,
ps - Trial is going well, hope to see you in DC soon.