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.

Filed Under: internet freedom, pipa, protect ip, sopa, state department


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  1. identicon
    Usemeplz, 10 Jan 2012 @ 4:55am

    John, you said great idea.. really..

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