“Obviously there’s no censorship in the bill and no one can indicate any censorship whatsoever. It’s not censorship to want to stop illegal activity. That’s all we do. We’re trying to impede illegal activity by foreign websites.”
-Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to the Wall Street Journal
As I read legislators’ responses to the hue and cry that the tech-savvy public have raised against the Stop Online Piracy Act and its sister act, the Protect IP Act, a common thread that I see is an assurance that the intent of the law is not to censor speech but instead stop crime.
I take these lawmakers at their collective word. I don’t believe that Lamar Smith wants to erode our speech rights, not really. But I do think that the strict adherence to this particular talking point is willfully ignorant to the damaging unintended consequences of these proposed laws. It is also willfully ignorant to the legacy of any piece of legislation: the intent of the author is not the only intent that should be taken into account, and hand-waving away loopholes or potentials for abuse with ‘well, I don’t want to do that’ statements only papers over the problem. It’s safe to assume that at some future date, someone will want to abuse this power. I’d think that part of the responsibility of drafting a living document is future-proofing it against such behavior. But, as has been pointed out to me many times, I’m hopelessly naive.
The protest against SOPA and PIPA does not stop with the end of today’s mass Internet blackout. The blackout is where it should start. Our representatives in government don’t represent us anymore – they represent lobbies and special interest groups – and the second we stop holding them accountable for the laws they pass is the second that the lobbies and special interest groups will make sure that their agendas are serviced in the blind spots created by our lack of attention.