Did NTIA just drive a stake through SOPA?

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The Obama Administration’s proposal for completing the U.S. spin-off of the internet by relinquishing control of the DNS registry system has sent the usual flying monkeys aloft over Capitol Hill so there’s no telling at this point where it will ultimately end up. One interesting result should it happen, though, could be to drive a final stake through anti-piracy proposals like SOPA that rely on manipulating DNS queries as an enforcement mechanism.

As originally drafted, SOPA would have required U.S. ISPs to accept a data feed comprising a list of domains of known or suspected “foreign infringing sites,” and then use that data to block DNS requests to those domains from the U.S. As noted in this very useful explainer by Tom Daly of Dyn back in 2011:

Implementing such a solution breaks the distributed tree of authority concept used by the [global] DNS by “injecting” U.S. nationalized pieces of DNS policy into the system. ISPs around the United States would become responsible for implementing, maintaining and monitoring these SOPA feeds into their DNS infrastructures, creating an additional layer of operational complexity for their DNS operations.

That solution could only be contemplated because of U.S. control over the DNS. If control of DNS were devolved onto some “multistakeholder” entity or system, presumably located outside the U.S., as the NTIA is now proposing, it would be much harder to implement such a solution by force of U.S. law alone. If U.S. law conflicted with multistakeholder policies regarding DNS, and those policies were not subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, it’s not clear how that conflict would be resolved.

Watch for that to become a political flashpoint, especially once the impliations of Popcorn Time begin to sink in among the studios and policymakers.

 

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