September 28, 2010

Assaults on Food and the Internet (Leahy, Food Bill, Copyright)


Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy is a typical US senator, which means he consistently wages war on the people. He’s been especially busy lately, spearheading assaults on internet democracy and food freedom. These two bills are his babies.

To us, COICA looks like another misguided gift to a shortsighted industry whose first instinct with respect to the Internet is to try to break it.

That’s the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s summary of the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act”, or COICA. (That acronym sounds dirty, for some reason.) I don’t know how it’s possible to have online counterfeits. I thought digital ones and zeroes are digital ones and zeroes, but then I’ve never been much of a tech nerd. Go figure; I’m sure Congress would never be tendentious in its bill titles.

This is a censorship bill that runs roughshod over freedom of speech on the Internet. Free speech is vitally important to democracy, which is why the government is restricted from suppressing speech except in very specific, narrowly-tailored situations. But this bill is the polar opposite of narrow — not only in the broad way that it tries to define a site “dedicated to infringing activities,” but also in the solution that it tries to impose — a block on a whole domain, and not just the infringing part of the site.

The two powers this bill bestows are:
1. It empowers the “Justice” Department to shut down whole sites with a court order, for even a localized infraction.
The Attorney General has to show that the site is “dedicated to infringing activity”, including anything that can “enable or facilitate” infringement. This could apply to any site which includes user-generated content no matter how punctiliously moderated.
As Public Knowledge put it:

Another overly broad definition lies in who exactly can get an order from the Attorney General telling them to stop doing business with the accused site. The section-by-section explanation for the bill specifically mentions ISPs, but the bill’s language itself mentions

a service provider, as that term is defined in section 512(k)(1) of title 17, United States Code, or other operator of a domain name system server.
Not only does this include any DNS server operator at all (which could also include small ISPs like colleges, libraries, and independent third-party operators), but section 512(k)(1) also defines a lot more than just ISPs. In fact, it includes any “provider of online services or network access, or the operator of facilities therfor.” That scope has been interpreted to include far more than ISPs, including online hosting services, websites, blogs, and more. The breadth of this definition in the bill leaves nearly any online entity subject to an order from the Attorney General not to serve traffic to a site associated with a particular domain name, from a massive backbone Internet provider to a website run off of a creaky Pentium.

2. Without any court oversight, the DoJ can establish a blacklist of anyone it deems to have anything to do with infringement. They don’t directly shut down anyone on this blacklist, but it’s intended to intimidate ISPs into dropping them. It gives legal immunity to any ISP who does shut down a listed site.
So that’s just an end run around judicial review and court orders. It launders the state power through a private deputy. A typical “libertarian” trick.
This end run includes allowing ISPs to break existing contracts with listed sites. So much for the “sanctity of contract” where Big Brother authorizes you to break contracts with arbitrarily designated outlaws.
Meanwhile anyone who ignores the blacklist may incur secondary liability for copyright infringement. If one fails to dishonor America by honoring the blacklist, that could be used as evidence by a parasitic copyright litigant.
The EFF describes the broad effects.

COICA is a fairly short bill, but it could have a longstanding and dangerous impact on freedom of speech, current Internet architecture, copyright doctrine, foreign policy, and beyond. In 2010, if there’s anything we’ve learned about efforts to re-write copyright law to target “piracy” online, it’s that they are likely to have unintended consequences.

That quote included these links. I would only dispute that these consequences are unintended.
Internet advocates fear that the bill will undermine the very architecture of the Internet. Apparently a blocked site will simply become an unsite (probably returning an innocuous, contentless error message) from the point of view of most attempts to find it. Or perhaps the attempt will be hijacked and rerouted. This is also likely to lead to a race to the bottom of unilateral censorship regimes worldwide. Once the US becomes the standard-setter for institutionalized censorship, most other countries are likely to follow.

Problem 4: DNS Blocking and Unintended Consequences
There’s also real problems attending the way that the bill proposes to have ISPs and other DNS providers to “take reasonable steps that will prevent a domain name from resolving to that domain name’s Internet protocol address.” This seems to be a roundabout way to say that these entities would have their DNS servers point request for a domain elsewhere. This would mean more conflicts among DNS servers than there already are, as the Attorney General runs about issuing orders to various ISPs and other DNS operators located in the US. Meanwhile, these conflicts, as well, I’m sure as the lure of getting to domains barred by the larger DNS providers, can easily drive users to third-party systems of varying degrees of savoriness. ICANN has previously warned of the harms that DNS redirects can do to the Internet, and tampering with the reliability of that system even more could destabilize that system even faster…..

Another thing to be avoided globally is the fragmentation of addressing, something that can happen when court orders start mucking about with the DNS. Imprudently broad orders, or orders directed at the wrong targets (would root servers be included in the scope?) would have massive effects. More than that, though, a branch of the government restricting DNS resolution for foreign servers could invite retaliation, increasing the tangle of redirects.

And finally, there’s a constant anxiety in many international forums about the United States’ role with respect to the Internet and the memorandum of understanding between the Department of Commerce and ICANN. ICANN is located in the United States, just as Network Solutions (which manages the top level domains .com, .net, and .org). Exercise of US jurisdiction over these entities, with global effects, is often too readily portrayed as the US trying to “take over the Internet,” with associated diplomatic headaches.

The existing DMCA already gives vastly more power than is needed to reasonably enforce copyright law. Instead, the real purpose of this bill is political and anti-competitive censorship. ( I’ve previously called this secondary censorship, as opposed to the economically structural primary censorship involved in attempts to gut net neutrality.)
This is all being done for the sake of monopolist anti-innovative IP rent-seeking. Once again the government’s the hired thug. This goes alongside the campaign to gut net neutrality and the attempts to trump up a bogus “cyberwar” scare to be placed alongside the Drug War and the Global War on Terror as fraudulent machines of tyranny, terror, and looting. Actual intellectual creators do not benefit from IP law, only monopoly corporate interests. We who want a benevolent disposition of creative output advocate that everything go into the Creative Commons, where the creators and the people benefit while the copyright rentier is euthanized.
So there’s part of Leahy’s handiwork. At the same time he’s trying to make us all play whack-a-mole, the stakes being our very freedom over our own food supply.
The current Food Tyranny bill (S510) remains stalled in the Senate thanks to the Democrats’ cowardly unwillingness to override Tom Coburn’s hold. As usual the Dems are malevolent in intent and cowardly in execution.
But they’re trying another tack, with Leahy sponsoring the different but equally bad S3767. Activists have forced some changes in it (the record of these food bills is that citizen pressure can force mild improvements, unlike with things like the sham finance bill), but it remains a bureaucratic assault on our food freedom, undertaken at the behest of corporate agriculture, the FDA’s real constituency.
One of these citizen groups, Health Freedom, proposes a very different ideal in the form of a Food Freedom Amendment:

Food Freedom Amendment

“No provision of Federal Law giving regulatory oversight to any Federal department or agency shall be deemed to apply (a) to any home, home-business, homestead, home or community gardens, small farm, organic or natural agricultural activity, (b) to any family farm or ranch, or (c) to any natural or organic food product, including dietary supplements, as protected under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.”

This represents the opposite of everything the food tyranny bills are trying to impose: It would empower small producers and distributors against oligopolists, encourage and enforce citizen control over our own food instead of seeking to subvert and destroy it, and restore food authority to communities where it belongs rather than letting a tyrannical government kidnap it in order to destroy it completely and replace it with the brute coercion of concentrated corporate power.
So there’s two smoking battlefronts. The enemy will never cease from this assault on freedom, democracy, and the people, for as long as he has the power to keep attacking. We can never “reform” or “regulate” the enemy, only destroy him completely and forever.


  1. Somehow COICA that acronym manages, in the most unfortunate way, to fuse together sounds from the words coitus and fecal. No wonder it sounds dirty.

    In the meantime, to this,

    “We can never “reform” or “regulate” the enemy, only destroy him completely and forever.”

    I say Amen.

    Comment by Edwardo — September 28, 2010 @ 6:37 am

    • There’s also “cloaca”, which means orifice. I’d say those responsible for these bills qualify as a kind of orifice.

      Comment by Russ — September 28, 2010 @ 6:48 am

  2. Who is Health Freedom? If I didn’t know any better they sound like an astroturf group, because that amendment would practically gut the ENTIRETY of our food safety infrastructure.

    In other, slightly off-topic news… did you see Barry Ritholz’s post about the meaninglessness of the blue/red divide and how it’s now The People vs. The Corporations? Nothing new to readers of this blog, to be sure, but it’s nice to see this truth spreading.

    Comment by jimmy james — September 28, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

    • Did you look at their site? It could be something of a “libertarian” group, even though their manifesto


      contains some anti-corporate content. There’s also some suspicious vagueness. I’m not sure. But I read the original at the Food Freedom blog, which is strongly anti-corporate in general.

      But the fact is that these bills aren’t going to do anything to improve the safety of the corporate food system. You should compare the alleged new “regulations” to those in the sham finance bill. On paper some of them sound good. Will they be enforced vs. Big Ag any more rigorously than against the big banks? It is to laugh.

      Meanwhile these bills show every sign of being crafted as weapons to be used against smaller, decentralized, informal food production and distribution.

      Since the federal government isn’t going to abolish or even rein in factory farming and other atrocities, we’ll have to oppose any new bill, take our chances with the existing “food safety” infrastructure, and focus on building a new food infrastructure establishing our own safety measures.

      I discussed this issue in my last food post:


      I did think that amendment could also apply to phony potemkin “family” farms and such, like you said, and if I were ever seriously involved in pushing a food amendment, I’d want more precise language. (I also noticed that as written “home business” doesn’t seem to even have to be about food.) But I quoted that as an example of something which heads in the right direction.

      I did see the Ritholz post. If I may toot my horn, that’s what I’ve been saying for a long, long time – democracy vs. corporatism (or as I tend to put it now, democracy vs. the elites) is the defining divide of our age, and this divide defines all other issues.

      (I bet Ritholz is also less likely to keep doing the Greenwald one step forward, two steps back on this.)

      I meant to read the long comment thread but haven’t gotten to that yet.

      Comment by Russ — September 28, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

  3. […] here to see the original: Assaults on Food and the Internet (Leahy, Food Bill, Copyright … Posted in Uncategorized, address, at, dns, domain, internet, is, isp, name, net, to | Tags: […]

    Pingback by Assaults on Food and the Internet (Leahy, Food Bill, Copyright … | DNS Internet — September 28, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

  4. You are heroic.
    As an English major, I get nauseous when confronted with government bills and technospeak of all kinds. They are the same in French, too.
    They send me running for the bathroom…
    I am increasingly… TURNING OFF MY MIND AND MY EARS on them.
    Gotta run and catch a quick antidote in some Matthew Arnold or some other English poet.

    Comment by Debra — September 28, 2010 @ 5:21 pm

    • “Dover Beach” remains the greatest God is Dead poem ever, I think. (Though Stevens’ “Sunday Morning” is pretty close.)

      I reread Byron’s “Darkness” today. But I sort of consider that work as well.

      Did you read my poems?


      I’ll be putting more up soon.

      Comment by Russ — September 28, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

      • Bloodgroove approved!

        Comment by Bloodgrove — September 29, 2010 @ 6:25 am

      • Thanks, JD.

        Comment by Russ — September 29, 2010 @ 7:08 am

    • I could almost forgive you ANYTHING for the poetry..
      I like the first poem on July 17 the best. Where your language is at its most alive, and vital.
      This week I spent an afternoon in the Revolution museum in Vizille in an exhibition on ways of representing the (French) revolution.
      Abstraction is a major disease of our time (dating at least from the Revolution..).
      It is slowly eating all the marrow out of our bones, and eagerly lapping our blood.
      Be careful of hanging out too much in the technospeak haunts. They will…dry up your poetic, prophetic voice.
      I read several lovely pages of Jacques Barzun’s book “From Dawn to Decadence, 500 years of Western cultural history” this morning while GIVING my blood. You should read this book..
      Today at lunch my husband and I spoke about the casket scenes in “the Merchant of Venice”. (William is STILL my hero, my first, and my last probably, too…).
      Aragon, who chooses the silver casket (like… silver pieces, right ??) says.. “I will assume desert” when courting Portia.
      Yep… Enlightenment entitlement and folly is very well summarized in that hubristic statement.
      Maybe too elliptic, huh ? maybe not.

      Comment by Debra — September 29, 2010 @ 8:08 am

  5. I don’t hear “God is dead” in Arnold’s poem. He talks about the long slow withdrawal of the sea of FAITH.
    Enlightenment thought has popularized the hubris that THE BURDEN OF PROOF FOR GOD is on Him.
    It never has been. It never will be, either.
    Every age has had its share of atrocities, traumas, incidents to shake the firmest faith.
    But few ages are as vapid and pusillanimous as ours with our puny, defiant cries of “God is dead”…
    Reducing the “God” question to the simplistic one of whether or not he exists… how cowardly we are, underneath all of our posturing.

    Comment by Debra — September 29, 2010 @ 8:12 am

    • The measure of god is identical to the measure of faith in him.

      The same goes for all elites.

      So your incompetent god screws up and makes flawed people who are “vapid, pusillanimous, puny, cowardly” (your terms; I reject them except to describe those who would agree with you), and that’s our fault. Yup, that’s your normal elitism, all right.

      You must agree with Obama and his hacks about how stupid and ungrateful (“puny and defiant”) the voters are. Bootlicking elitism is eternally the same everywhere.

      Comment by Russ — September 29, 2010 @ 11:14 am

      • Sigh. Here we go again.
        I’m not an elitist. I’m a person desperately trying to cultivate a little aristocracy in this base world.
        Sorry you can’t seem to grasp what that means.
        I fear that we will never see eye to eye on this one.
        You are perfectly right about the “measure” of God being identical to the measure of faith in him.
        Our generation is PARTICULARLY FAITHLESS though.
        My comment on God runs along the lines of JFK.
        “Ask not what your country can do for you (you may substitute God for country), ask what YOU can do for your country.
        NO faith will not get you very far.
        That’s the problem over there in frontier land these days… No faith in anything…
        Cynicism is a mortal disease.
        I don’t agree with Obama about anything. I am not even following the American political scene any more… I’ve got.. MY OWN COUNTRY to worry about, now…
        And I maintain what I said about vapid, pusillanimous people.
        They are.. NOT JUST THE ELITES, you know.

        Comment by debra — September 29, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

  6. […] […]

    Pingback by Monsanto, GMOs, and the Food Tyranny Bill « Volatility — October 6, 2010 @ 4:18 am

  7. […] farming, without rentier dominance. But as I’ve written many times (most recently here and here), help is on the way for Monsanto and the other criminal gangs. The Food Tyranny bills have been […]

    Pingback by Growing threats to human life on earth | The Bovine — March 28, 2012 @ 11:43 am

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