'Anonymous' threatens attack on Chamber of Commerce over censorship bill

Protect-IP would allow Chamber of Commerce businesses to shut down sites they dislike

The hactivist group Anonymous is threatening a new round of DDOS attacks against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest the anti-piracy bill that would give U.S. law-enforcement agencies the right to force ISPs and search engines to erase sites accused of violating copyright protections.

They're mad about the titularly anti-piracy bill Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property' Act (PROTECT-IP, which must have been named not just by a committee, but a committee of committees made up of lawyers representing other committees).

The main power in the proposed bill it to allow the U.S. Justice Dept. to declare a particular Web site contenta non-grata, which would allow it to order the ISPs hosting it to take it down and Google, Bing and other search engines to delete it from their search results.

The bill , currently listed as Senate Bill 968 (S.968) is aimed at pirates selling "counterfeit goods online", and sends a message that "the United States will strongly protect its intellectual property rights," according to Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah).

Though the current version of the bill creates a narrower definition of what sites can be banned – the whole site has to be judged to be "dedicated to infringing activities" – it allows private companies to sue to a Web site to have it knocked offline.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a statement saying it is "dismayed" by a bill that would allow the U.S. government the direct right of censorship, then expand that to include commercial entities as well.

"An interactive computer service (the term, and its definition, are borrowed from the Communications Decency Act) could include not only Bing but also sites like Facebook, Twitter, and potentially any service or web page where a URL might turn up," according to EFF's blog post.

Digital-rights-protection group Public Knowledge said the bill still allows so broad an interpretation that even sites that allow others to infringe copyrights can be taken offline.

The bill has two goals: Allowing domestic ISPs to cut off access to overseas sites that violate U.S. copyright laws, without becoming liable themselves; and to combat piracy.

By letting deep-pocketed companies sue private citizens, the Protect-IP act hands over to groups such as the RIAA and MPAA the right to decide what does or does not constitute a violation of copyright.

These are the organizations, if you'll remember, who have protected the freedom of Americans by making an example in court of grandmothers and young children who live in the same house in which copyrighted material was downloaded.

The bill has also ticked off Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, who vowed to fight it even if it passes.

A range of open-source and open-information sites call the bill a blatant effort to institutionalize censorship, and it's hard to contradict them. The rhetoric does focus on preventing piracy, but there are few controls or definitions that would either restrict the actions of an overzealous Justice Dept. or provide guidance to one that was being careful to adhere to the law.

The result is bound to be inconsistent, as some sites remain unmolested by keeping a low profile, and the full weight of the U.S. government falling on others that have somehow gotten themselves into the sights of the RIAA or MPAA.

So where does Anonymous and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce come in? The Chamber (which is not the U.S. Dept. of Commerce), is a Washington-based lobby for big business. Businesses in the RIAA, MPAA and other content-heavy businesses are big players with the Chamber.

The Chamber runs stories on its blog like the "Rogue Web Site of the Day," featuring a future victim of a Protect-IP investigation, posts videos with titles like " Intellectual Property Theft Kills Jobs," and allege content piracy in China costs 2.1 million U.S. jobs and hint that Protect-IP might help improve that a bit.

“Websites dedicated to trafficking in counterfeit products and digital theft dupe consumers, steal our jobs, and threaten the vibrant Internet marketplace,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber. “We commend Senator Leahy and the bill’s cosponsors for introducing this critical legislation to address the growing threats of counterfeiting and piracy over the Internet. Addressing this problem is a win-win-win—good for businesses that need to protect their IP online, good for America’s economy and jobs, and good for consumers who will benefit from both.”

The Chamber is also a sleazy, underhanded organization discovered to be running its own covert propaganda and cyberwar operations against groups that oppose its political positions. Like, say, Anonymous, which uncovered the weaselery.

Hence, Anonymous doesn't like the Chamber much, or the vigor with which the Chamber has been promoting and campaigning for what Anonymii -- and a good number of simple Americans who are able and willing to read the definition – consider to be a violation of the most basic Constitutional right – the right to speak.

You can understand the venom behind Anonymous' response, even if its solution – aside from being illegal and inconsistent with arguments in favor of free speech – is a little lacking in subtlety.

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