State Department Can't Take An Official Stance On SOPA Yet, So There Isn't One

from the okay,-let's-kill-this-off dept

An article by Carl Franzen over at TPM notes, correctly, that contrary to what many SOPA supporters have been insisting, the State Department has taken no official stance on SOPA. This is not a surprise. SOPA supporters lean heavily on that letter that Hillary Clinton sent to Rep. Howard Berman saying that IP enforcement and free speech were compatible goals. However, that letter was written before SOPA came out, and makes no reference to SOPA itself. As we noted at the time, what Clinton says is pretty meaningless as well. It's quite easy to see how IP enforcement can conflict with free speech rights -- it just depends on how it's done. To take an extreme example: if a law was created that shut down all blogs to stop copyright infringement, I think everyone (even SOPA supporters!) would agree that's a form of IP enforcement that also violates free speech. So the devil is very much in the details. And Clinton's letter doesn't discuss the details.

And there's a really good reason for this: it would be a massive breach of protocol for a federal agency to speak out about a bill prior to the White House taking an official stance on the bill. I mean, a huge breach. This is not something that federal agency bosses do if they want to keep their jobs. They likely do have internal positions, and will express their opinion to the White House (and to some in Congress), but they simply won't make a public statement until the White House has made its own position clear. And, in fact, as we've reported, we've heard from multiple sources that many, many people within the State Department aren't against the bill, and have put some pressure on other parts of the government over the bill. But that's different than having an official, public position.

So it seemed odd for Franzen to note that the State Department continues to have no official position... and then use that to suggest that my reporting was incorrect on the subject:
“The Department of State does not provide comment on pending legislation. The Administration is in continual contact with Congress on a broad spectrum of issues, including those related to the Internet and the protection of Intellectual Property. “

The news is likely to come as a frustration to the increasing number of those Web companies, writers and users who have criticized SOPA for being a broad overreach that would “break the Internet” from a technical and user standpoint and severely erode innovation, economic growth and Free Speech.

It’s also at odds with what avid SOPA critic and knowledgable IP writer Mike Masnick of Techdirt reported in late December 2011, writing: “Much of the State Department is strenuously opposed to the bill, knowing darn well that it would do significant harm to their efforts to push internet freedom and openness around the globe.”
I don't see how the two things are at odds. The State Department simply can't (as it notes!) make a public statement on pending legislation. But that doesn't mean that many people (and people in power) within the State Department are very much against the bill, and recognize that it would harm their "Internet Freedom" programs abroad. There isn't a public statement in either direction, not because the State Department's position are "at odds," with either view, but because the State Department won't make a statement on any pending legislation publicly, at least until the White House has made its position clear.

But having lots of people internally at State not happy with SOPA/PIPA is not "at odds" with the State Department not saying anything publicly beyond broad platitudes about the importance of both free speech and intellectual property.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Richard (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 4:24am

    But that doesn't mean that many people (and people in power) within the State Department are very much against the bill, and recognize that it would harm their "Internet Freedom" programs abroad.

    From the sense of the overall paragraph shouldn't that be

    But that doesn't mean that many people (and people in power) within the State Department aren't very much against the bill, and recognize that it would harm their "Internet Freedom" programs abroad.

     

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      doughless (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 9:19am

      Re:

      Actually, Mike realized how totally wrong he is about SOPA, and that the entire State Department secretly wants it to pass so that bunnies and rainbows will appear after the flood of piracy ends. This next quote proves he changed his statement, because he couldn't possibly make the same mistake twice:

      And, in fact, as we've reported, we've heard from multiple sources that many, many people within the State Department aren't against the bill, and have put some pressure on other parts of the government over the bill.




      Hehe, sorry Mike, I just thought it was pretty funny that you actually did make the same mistake twice (either that, or updated the wrong sentence that Richard pointed out, since I didn't see this article at 4am).

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 10:46am

      Re:

      Ok, thanks, it wasn't just my brain refusing to parse a sentence properly. I thought I just needed more coffee. Thanks.

       

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      Brendan (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 2:51pm

      Re:

      Was going to point out the same thing.

       

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    deebee, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 4:27am

    PIPA / SOPA

    Hopefully the people in the State Department have brains and will engage them wisely when considering which way to go , and to anyone with a functioning brain the only way is 'NO ! , not on my watch'

     

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      el_segfaulto (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 8:29am

      Re: PIPA / SOPA

      A few years ago I actually applied for a job with the State Department. I got far enough into the hiring process that I flew out to D.C. for a series of interviews. From what I saw, it's just as mired in bureaucratic red tape as any other federal agency. Anybody with a brain settles down in a niche to get to retirement, anybody without one is simply promoted to get them out of the way.

       

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    John Doe, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 4:43am

    Look at the bright side

    Look at the bright side of this, other writers are writing about you.

     

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    Usemeplz, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 4:55am

    John, you said great idea.. really..

     

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    Loki, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 6:09am

    it would be a massive breach of protocol for a federal agency to speak out about a bill prior to the White House taking an official stance on the bill.

    At this point I could care less about protocol. How's about instead of more pomp and circumstance, we put a little INTEGRITY back into government.

     

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      Loki, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 6:15am

      Re:

      Not to mention, given ACTA, ICE domain seizures, and various other effort, it's clear where the White House stands on the issue, and also very clear they like to operate mostly behind closed doors. He's not going to openly take a stance, so it's going to have to be forced from him.

       

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    Violated (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 6:13am

    Hypercritical Hilary

    The biggest issue here is what happened to Spain with the United States forcing on them a SOPA-like law. That is despite considerable public and political objection.

    Since this was done by the US Embassy in Madrid then this falls under the State Department of which Hilary Clinton is the supreme boss of foreign policy.

    The irony here is that Ms. Clinton has also said much about a free, fair and uncensored Internet. She part of a group promoting this in other countries including that humorous time when Joe Biden gave her speech because she was ill.

    I believe it untrue to say that the State Department has said nothing on SOPA when the last official word I heard was that they were very concerned about SOPA. This was all about other countries could crack down on the free speech and public protest under the excuse of "copyright enforcement"

    So Hilary Clinton lives in Hypercritical House of say one thing and do another. You can only wonder who is pulling her strings and very few can do that. Can you not feel the waves of lobbying money being cast at the Whitehouse here?

     

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      Al Bert (profile), Jan 10th, 2012 @ 5:04pm

      Re: Hypercritical Hilary

      This is the point i was expecting to find all over the comment threads. I find it surprising that nobody else suspects that despite their claim of noncommittal neutrality, the state department most certainly does have a position.

      If they worked toward the implementation of companion legislation overseas at the behest of the entertainment industry and against the will of the people, what could possibly suggest that they'd be against implementing the same thing at home?

       

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    kenichi tanaka, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 6:13am

    Of course they won't take a stance, until after the bill is passed and then they'll say it's the best thing for our economy, even though it won't save a single job.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 6:23am

    However, that letter was written before SOPA came out, and makes no reference to SOPA itself.

    Yes, but the Protect IP Act was. So does that mean State doesn't necessarily support SOPA but does support Protect IP?

     

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    notOK, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 7:00am

    Once again, know-nothings making the choices.

    They're a bunch of know-nothings in Washington trying to make technical choices on our future for us all, and all they're listening too is the money being thrown at them from the dinosaurs that don't want to die off and nodding their heads. Lets forget for just a moment how much of a horrible idea it is to basically put the internet into the hands of Hollywood so they can do what ever they please with it in the name of profits, and focus for a second on the fact that those calling the shots on this bill don't have a clue what it will take to implement it on the technical end, or the horrible mess it will make of the internet infrastructure in our country.

    And they simply don't care.

    It's just a bad idea, its big name dinosaurs trying to stay relevant in the face of something innovative and they can't keep up to keep their investors happy, so they claim copyright infringement woes and toss money at D.C. so they can get laws passed that allow them to sink their claws into the internet and bring it down with them back to the stone age, in the hopes that this will some how lead to more profit. Free speech, DNSSEC, and the extra pain in the ass it will be to their current paying customers are all just casualties in a war to get more money, perfectly acceptable in their book.

    Greed is a powerful thing, powerful enough to not only stop innovation, but completely reverse it if we allow it to happen. If the big music labels got their way we'd just turn the internet off completely because it 'infringes on copyright because someone downloaded a song somewhere' and would have to drive to the store to buy a circular piece of plastic if we wanted any music at all, instead of being able to buy the one song we like for a buck online. And the truth behind it is they want you to buy that entire album for that one song so they get more money, even if everything else on the disc is crap. That isn't how the world works any more dinosaurs, so either get with the program or go extinct.

     

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    Jake, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 10:42am

    Am I the only one who questions the wisdom of this protocol? It strikes me as kind of important for all of Congress, at the very least, to know whether the head of the government agency that will be responsible for enforcing this bill thinks it's a good idea or not.

    And while some people might argue that putting internal divisions between various branches of government into the public domain makes the curent administration look ineffectual, I'd argue it actually makes them look stronger, by proving to the world that the President is prepared to appoint people who'll stand up to him when they think he's making a mistake.

     

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    Lord Binky, Jan 10th, 2012 @ 1:41pm

    "It’s also at odds with what avid SOPA critic and knowledgable IP writer Mike Masnick of Techdirt reported in late December 2011,"

    When I first read this, I read this as "it's = The State Department", being that they very well may be at odds with Mike reporting their honest feelings and not a prewashed prepared statement of their feelings that was given to them.

    Then again, reporting (even if it is a significant number) that anyone in an agency do not agree with legislation before they are told what their decision and feelings are, is a little presumptious mike.

     

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