Think Tank That First Proposed SOPA Now Claims 'Proof' That SOPA Would Have Been Great

from the yeah,-good-one,-guys dept

Oh boy. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a DC-based think tank that, from it's name, you might think would promote things that are important for innovation. And yet, this misleadingly named think tank has been on the wrong side of almost every major tech issue over the last few years -- perhaps because a large segment of its funding comes from anti-technology industries, like the entertainment industry and the large telco/broadband providers. This is the same organization that argued that net neutrality was bad, that kicking people off the internet for piracy was a good idea, that the US gov't should encourage countries to censor the internet and, most recently, that broadband companies charging more to not track your every move is "pro-consumer."

But perhaps the pinnacle of bullshit policy proposals from ITIF was that it was the organization (again, funded by the entertainment industry) that first proposed the basic framework of site blocking as a response to copyright infringement, back in 2009. The basis of that proposal was then turned into SOPA, leading ITIF to take a victory lap for creating what it believed was such a good law.

Of course, you know how that all went down. After actual technologists pointed out how problematic the ITIF approach to site blocking would be, and the public spoke up, the bill went nowhere. And ITIF is basically the sorest of sore losers. Last fall, ITIF published a bogus snarky "report" insisting that it's original SOPA plan for DNS blocking "did not break the internet." This, of course, conveniently misstates what was meant by "breaking the internet" when tech experts like Paul Vixie explained the problems with SOPA. It wasn't that the overall internet would just stop working or that fewer people would use it, but rather than basic ways in which the internet is expected to function (I reach out to this DNS entry, I get back the proper response) would fail, and that would open up opportunities for serious mischief, from man in the middle attacks to breaking how certain security protocols work.

But ITIF just can't let it go. This week it published a new report, once again using snark to insist that the internet didn't break: How Website Blocking Is Curbing Digital Piracy Without "Breaking the Internet." But its "evidence" is pretty suspect. It relies heavily on a recent report from some Carnegie Mellon professors, but leaves out the fact that those professors run a research center that was launched with a massive grant... from the MPAA. It also quotes papers from NetNames (funded by NBC Universal) and the Digital Citizens Alliances (a secretive MPAA front group that was a core component to the MPAA's "Project Goliath" plan to attack Google).

The paper is full of misleading statements and half truths. Take this for example:
In the vitriolic debates over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States, many opponents of taking action to limit access to foreign websites dedicated to piracy argued that website blocking would “break the Internet,” although they never satisfactorily explained how this breakage would occur or why the Internet was not already broken, since some site blocking already existed before the SOPA debate. Nonetheless, no policymaker wanted to be accused of being responsible for breaking the Internet. Five years later, we have evidence to evaluate. Meanwhile, 25 nations have enacted policies and regulations regarding website blocking to find a better balance between preserving the benefits of a free and open Internet and efforts to stop crimes such as digital piracy. And the Internet still works just fine in these nations.
Actually lots of people pretty clearly explained how and why it would break things -- including tech superstars like Paul Vixie and, yes, even Comcast, the owner of NBC Universal, an MPAA member. This is from Comcast:
When we launched the Domain Helper service, we also set in motion its eventual shutdown due to our plans to launch DNSSEC. Domain Helper has been turned off since DNS response modification tactics, including DNS redirect services, are technically incompatible with DNSSEC and/or create conditions that can be indistinguishable from malicious modifications of DNS traffic (including DNS cache poisoning attacks). Since we want to ensure our customers have the most secure Internet experience, and that if they detect any DNSSEC breakage or error messages that they know to be concerned (rather than not knowing if the breakage/error was "official" and caused by our redirect service or "unofficial" and caused by an attacker), our priority has been placed on DNSSEC deployment -- now automatically protecting our customers...
The non-technical policy wonks at ITIF might not understand this "technical" speak, but what Comcast is saying here is that using DNS blocking is a massive security risk. It doesn't mean that the internet itself "stops working" altogether, but that a core way that the internet is expected to work no longer does, and that exposes lots of people to lots of mischief.

ITIF, of course, will then point to the fact that 25 countries have implemented DNS blocking, and since they haven't seen the internet "stop" working in those places, they assume it's fine. This is dubious on two accounts. First, much of the mischief that can be caused by DNS blocking won't be directly observable to the public. ITIF really is in no position to know what kind of mischief is now enabled thanks to DNS blocking in those countries, but it won't be surprising to see that it eventually leads to security nightmares. The second is more fundamental: many people in those countries now use VPNs to virtually transport themselves elsewhere to get around these blocks. Many, in fact, transport themselves to the US to access things here. But, put in place site blocking in the US, where a huge percentage of internet traffic happens, and the opportunities for massive mischief increase quite a lot. But ITIF is too clueless to understand this.

In fact, the only "problem" that ITIF says might come up with DNS blocking is that it might take down multiple servers behind the same DNS, but which ITIF insists is easy to fix. ITIF also insists that such a small percentage of people use VPNs, getting around DNS blocking won't be much of a problem. Though, hilariously, they then admit that the methods to get around DNS blocking could put users at risk. But ITIF never puts two and two together to recognize how DNS blocking puts more people at risk.
Critics claim that DNS blocking, like IP blocking, will cause “collateral damage” due to the risk of over-blocking, as a single domain can host many websites through website extensions.26 However, this risk can be addressed by implementing DNS blocking at the subdomain level (e.g. www.piracysite.maindomain.com instead of www.maindomain.com)....

[....] Many, if not most, consumers have low levels of computer literacy and certainly are not sophisticated enough to understand how to manipulate the DNS settings in the network configuration of their computers, mobile phones, and other Internet-connected devices. Furthermore, users who switch DNS servers can expose themselves to many security risks if they cannot trust the responses from these servers.
You know what else will mean you can't trust the results from a DNS server? DNS blockades! That's the "breaking" of the internet that Vixie and others were talking about. Which ITIF still doesn't comprehend.

Later in the report, ITIF also claims that people who worried about DNS blocking for copyright infringement were "fine" for it in blocking malware:
The irony is that just months before leading opponents stated their opposition to website blocking, a key opponent said it was okay to block domains that spread malware and that this could be done without harming the Internet itself.
I'll just note that basically every other sentence in that paragraph has a footnote as a source for the information... but that sentence conveniently has no footnote. I've looked at the other footnoted links in that paragraph and none of them involve "leading opponents" supporting DNS blocking for malware. So I'm curious how ITIF's sourcing on this key point seems to have magically disappeared.

There's more in the ITIF report, but it's basically fighting the same old war: it lost on SOPA, but ITIF can't let it go. And so it's not just fighting, but fighting dishonestly. It takes quotes out of context, makes misleading statements and doesn't seem to actually understand the core technological issues at play here. And it would be at least marginally more compelling if every study it cited (and ITIF itself) weren't funded by the MPAA, the main driver behind SOPA.

Filed Under: copyright, dns blocking, site blocking, sopa
Companies: itif


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2016 @ 10:01am

    "The irony is that just months before leading opponents stated their opposition to website blocking, a key opponent said it was okay to block domains that spread malware and that this could be done without harming the Internet itself."

    This is totally misleading anyways. The most common way to block malware sites is through the client (FireFox, Chrome...) not DNS. IE: https://www.stopbadware.org/firefox

    The attempts made at block on the DNS level have been hampered with multiple issues. From the US, ICE's wonderful examples of blocking legitimate sites, and the UK's the great firewall of Cameron and it's wonderful success. The only successful thing I can see is that it let the DNSChanger virus go rampant and gave the FBI and Paul Vixie a nice little cash cow to clean things up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2016 @ 10:50am

    Think Tanks start smelling like their Master

    Think tanks like this one start spreading rumor and false statements to make up for the fact that their cognitive dissonance has ruined them for any other purpose. Once they start taking MPAA money and skewing results to support groups like them, their credibility goes out the window. Give up and start over with a fresh slate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2016 @ 10:56am

    Someone should go to the authors of this papers house and throw a rock through their car windshield. Then calmly explain to them that since the car did not catch fire and/or explode you did not acctually break it at all and they should stop screaming at you so much.

    Goddamn morons... Something can still sort of work and still be considered "broken". But I guess carefully crafted dishonesty is the MPAA standard mode of operation

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 Aug 2016 @ 11:57am

    "I can't hear you!"

    In the vitriolic debates over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States, many opponents of taking action to limit access to foreign websites dedicated to piracy argued that website blocking would “break the Internet,” although they never satisfactorily explained how this breakage would occur or why the Internet was not already broken, since some site blocking already existed before the SOPA debate.

    How's that saying go again?

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” -Upton Sinclair

    Plenty of people explained(or tried to anyway if they're still lying about how no-one said a thing ), they just didn't listen because they weren't actually interested in what the people telling them how stupid and problematic their proposal was were saying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zonker, 23 Aug 2016 @ 12:11pm

    Breaking the internet?

    I think that their definition of "breaking the internet" must be vastly different from what an ordinary person understands it to mean.

    It seems they believe that foisting naked pictures of Kardashians on an unwitting public is "breaking the internet", yet causing Domain Name Servers to give incorrect results when people attempt to access a website is not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2016 @ 1:01pm

    Either they are the worst whiners in history and have spent a lot of time and money, just to tell everyone how they were obviously right and everyone else are morons, or we will very soon see a very bad sequel: "SOPA II - The Return" (sponsored by MPAA)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    paul vixie, 23 Aug 2016 @ 2:48pm

    nice-- thanks.

    i never know whether to respond when somebody slops their intellectual dishonesty all over one of my topics, especially when they mention me in the doing of it.

    thanks for this article; i shall link to it in plural.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2016 @ 5:53pm

    In the months that followed after the defeat of SOPA, the usual trolls on Techdirt gloated that the harsher penalties, lack of oversight, hastened processes and other things they really wanted SOPA to implement were already being secretly pushed through and approved, and that piracy was fucked. They mocked the general populace for rejecting SOPA, on grounds that it was the only way any form of balance might have been introduced.

    And yet somehow despite all the secret laws and agreements the same chucklefucks who shook their fists in the air, claiming that the death of SOPA meant the advent of worse things to come, are now suddenly lamenting it? So was SOPA actually needed or not? They can't both be true.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 23 Aug 2016 @ 7:49pm

    Honesty?

    Never had it, why add it in now? Just mixes up the poor everyday sod that cannot comprehend how DNS saves the MPAA, so keep them checks coming!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tobias Harms (profile), 24 Aug 2016 @ 11:11am

    Fun fact, sopa in Swedish is what you call someone who is crap or a loser...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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