SOPA and ProtectIP Followup

I wrote to both my senators, Kerry (D) and Brown (R) about SOPA and ProtectIP.  I sent substantially the same letter to both:

I urge you to vote against SOPA/ProtectIP.

This pernicious legislation would give the government the power to shut down websites and internet domains with no evidence, no due process, and no redress, essentially at the behest of private interests.

Even without this new legislation, the government is <already> seizing domains without due process. In a recent example, a domain was seized and not returned for a year, in violation of numerous “policies” without any opportunity for the people whose property was seized to confront their accusers or even learn the charges. In the end it turned out there was no evidence at all.

SOPA and ProtectIP will make the current intolerable overreach of the US Government with respect to the internet immeasurably worse.
-Lawrence Stewart, PhD
Software Engineer

I sent my senators an email.  Others sent cash.  According to, Sen. Kerry received $358,270 from pro-PIPA groups and $403,422 from anti-PIPA groups (plus $4,485,003 from big media generally), and Sen. Brown received $473,745 from pro-PIPA groups and $152,173 from anti-PIPA groups.  It’s hard to draw any conclusion from the money flow except that Kerry is more senior.
I have now received answers from my senators.  Here they are:
From Senator John Kerry <

Dear Dr. Stewart:

Thank you for your letter regarding the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP Act).  I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

I have long championed the cause of innovation and an open Internet.  Firms operating on and off the Internet strongly rely on intellectual property laws to help protect their investments and ensure a just return for their goods and services.  Online piracy and copyright infringement hurts our economy and costs American businesses more than 200 billion dollars a year.  Many infringers operate from foreign countries in order to avoid US law enforcement.  As a result, under current law, American authorities are limited in what they can do to bring these rogue sites to justice.

As you know, the PROTECT IP Act was intended to protect American businesses from intellectual property theft on foreign websites.  Among other things, the bill would provide the Attorney General with the authority to seek a court injunction against a foreign website that engages in copyright infringement.  The court could also require U.S. websites to block access to websites found to be dedicated to infringing activities.  For example, search engines could be required to disable links to the website that is found to be violating copyright of a US company.

However, there are a number of serious and legitimate concerns regarding the scope of the legislation, as well as the potential for abuse, censorship, or other unintended consequences.   The authors recognize the legislation still needs work and I will oppose any proposal that would fundamentally undermine or impede the ability of people to communicate, compete, and innovate using the Internet.

I am pleased that Majority Leader Reid has indefinitely postponed Senate consideration of the PROTECT IP Act, and I will continue to review and work to improve legislation to both protect the intellectual property of American businesses and to ensure the web remains free and open.  As I consider proposals to address these issues, I will keep your views in mind.

Thank you again for contacting me on this topic.  Please don’t hesitate to reach me again on this or any other issue in the future.

From Senator Scott P. Brown <>

Dear Dr. Stewart,

     Thank you for contacting me regarding the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP) Act (S. 968).  I am strongly opposed to this legislation.

     As you know, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced S. 968 on May 12, 2011.  The PROTECT IP Act aims to provide law enforcement with tools to stop websites dedicated to online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods.  However, many Americans feared that S. 968 would stifle freedom of expression and harm the Internet.

     The Internet has been a source of dynamic growth in our economy and is responsible for employing many people in Massachusetts.  I have very serious concerns about increased government interference in this area and the effect of the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261, House companion legislation) on the Internet.  On January 18, 2012, I announced my opposition to the PROTECT IP Act.  You will be pleased to know that with opposition to the bill mounting, on January 20, 2012, the Senate Majority Leader announced that the scheduled vote on the PROTECT IP Act has been indefinitely postponed.

     Again, thank you for sharing your views with me.  As always, I value your input and appreciate hearing from you.  Should you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or visit my website at

Well.  The letter from Sen. Brown is completely straightforward.  Internet Good, PIPA Bad.  The letter from Sen. Kerry is quite a piece of mealy-mouth apology for the entertainment industry. However, Sen. Kerry is willing to admit that PIPA “needs work”.
I kind of think the right thing for Massachusetts might be Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.  Too bad Sen. Kerry is not up for reelection.

Making laws

As a followup to the post about delivering the tax code in source form, I think that congress should be required to use a revision control system for bills.  Such a system could help us figure out who added what provisions.  You know how when a provision benefiting some group is added and noone seems to know how or when it got in the final bill?  
I am most familiar with cvs and svn, but there are many others.  All of these systems track revisions and permit the user to go back and check out any previous version.  Good ones can show you the changes between any two versions, … and who made those changes.  Svn has a feature called “svn blame” which produces a listing of a file with every line of text annotated by its author.  So you want to know who added the earmark giving a billion dollars to Halliburton?  Svn blame!

The Bully Pulpit

Here’s my first political post.
I think President Elect Obama is missing a bet on the Blagojevich affair. After the Rev. White incident, Obama took the opportunity to present a very good speech on race relations. He didn’t hide hide his connection to White, or excuse the man. He took the moment of public attention and turned it to good purpose.
In the case of Blagojevich, Obama has merely tried to distance himself from it. I think that is the wrong approach. Obama has an opportunity here to present a very effective discussion of service, responsibility, integrity, and character.