Covered Topics

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

SOPA, PIPA, and Citizens' Need For A "Backup" Internet

Well, it looks like we have dodged a bullet - for now.

News sources reported yesterday that our illustrious Congress critters have backed off on ramming through legislation that could have shut down many websites - possibly including this blog. President Obama has also backed away from his original position, saying he won't be signing any SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) or PIPA (Protect IP Act) legislation right away. No doubt he doesn't want to make any more adverse waves, given this is an election year and the outcry these bills have caused.

These bills were put forth ostensibly to stop piracy of movies, music, and other intellectual property. As one who has created my share of copyrighted property, I fully understand and sympathise with ANYONE wanting theirs protected. But what these pieces of legislation would do is basically allow an individual or company to sue you and have your website shut down if you as much as linked to a suspicious site. If a reader's comment published on your blog contains a link to suspicious material, that alone could prove sufficient cause to have your entire site shut down. This, BEFORE you even get a chance to argue your case in court!

ALL of this could happen WITHOUT due process, folks. This basically renders null and void the idea of "innocent until proven guilty" - one of THE founding principles America was based on.

Laws such as this could put sites like blogger, you-tube, ... out of business because the legal risk they would incur by hosting the millions of videos and blogs would be overwhelming. Imagine the undertaking it would be for blogger to check EVERY blog out on their system for possible copyright violations.

As someone said a while back, "SOPA and PIPA are basically the legal equivalent of burning down your house because you found a couple roaches in the kitchen." There are better ways of handling the problem.

An Opening For Repressive Governments
Regularly we read about how China, Egypt, and other repressive regimes curtail their citizens' access to information online. Thus far, the Constitution and other legal protections have kept this from happening here in America. We have seen how easily the USA Patriot Act was pushed through Congress with nary a whimper after the 9/11/2001 attacks. Bear in mind that the Republicans soundly defeated similar legislation - calling it "Draconian" - when Bill Clinton proposed it just a few years earlier. The USA Patriot Act opened the door for, among many other things, the gross violations of our dignity we suffer for the privilege of boarding an airliner nowadays.

It is likewise quite conceivable that SOPA and PIPA could start us on a slippery slope whereby the US government and/or others could also more readily clamp down on the flow of information when "inconvenient truths" on ANY subject threaten to surface.

The Common Citizen's Workaround - Or Digital "Jungle Telegraph"
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Common citizens should have ALTERNATIVE ways of communicating, exchanging news and information, as well as storing and accessing needed web content should there be any kind of censorship or shutdown of the Internet. Just as Amateur (HAM) radio allows communications when the regular infrastructure is down, a "mesh" network could quickly serve as the modern, information-age equivalent to "ham" or CB radio in an emergency. The software to do this is available online for FREE right now. All you need is the software and a wi-fi enabled laptop or desktop PC. Any desktop PC can be made wi-fi capable with an inexpensively purchased USB dongle.

How it works:
With a mesh network, a person's PC, laptop, or even a smart phone becomes a network repeater. Let's say I want to communicate with someone several blocks, or even miles away. I'd send out a signal, which would be picked up by the nearest computer or phone running the appropriate software. That device would then forward that to another one farther away, and so-on, until the message reached its destination. The more devices you get involved the more robust the network becomes. If you have several nodes in a neighborhood and one or two are lost, the signal still can go elsewhere and eventually get where it is going. Since unlike the regular Internet, there are MULTIPLE WAYS for an individual PC to connect, these networks are quite reliable. You are NO LONGER dependent on just your DSL or cable connection to get out. And neither is anyone else running a wi-fi mesh setup. And of course ANY of these devices could be running a server or host a shared directory for sharing files. Short of a major EMP incident (which would destroy most electronic hardware anyway), such a network would be very hard to completely jam or take down. The phones and PCs involved would still retain their originally intended functionality - this software runs quietly in the background.

Scalability: A mesh network can be as small as a few PCs in an apartment building or it could quite conceivably span an entire city. Licensed ham radio operators routinely transmit computer data over their radios - this is called "packet radio". Imagine the possibilities that open when you combine packet radio with mesh networks.

For more information I have included the following links:

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