Many of us - and that number was shown to be in the tens of millions - who believe that the Internet ought to be a fundamentally free and private place felt something of a sense of shared solidarity at the mass Internet protest that resulted in Congressional and Senate leaders pulling their SOPA/PIPA bills that would have granted draconian abilities to the government to attack online piracy. It was thus a bit of a shock that the next day MegaUpload, one of the largest websites on the Internet, got shut down regardless of this. The SOPA story, and to a lesser degree the MegaUpload story, is getting an enormous amount of attention. It is worth contrasting these with the lesser known story of the closure of online poker sites last year.
Cursory information makes it appear that MegaUpload was indeed not just allowing but abetting illegal activites. For that, repercussions should ensue. But there are many questions, and lessons, on the issue of process. Firstly, this should underline how unnecessary SOPA is. The US government already has (or at least claims to have) the relevant powers to be able to shut down internationally based websites like MegaUpload that offer pirated material, surely the expanded powers in SOPA that so worry people are simply unnecessary.
The principal issue I have with MegaUpload is the amount of disruption it causes to large amounts of normal people using it for their own legal and benign reasons. As something of an omnibus online storage locker, people stored just about anything on there that they may still want and need. Now, unfortunately, it is shut down and they cannot get any of it. Contrast this with arresting the founder but publically giving, say, two weeks or a month reprieve where people could get what they needed off of MegaUpload without it simply shutting the domain name off. It is possible the only long term solution is to close down MegaUpload, but there are other options than this in the interim.
A reasonable analogy is that of a storage locker or a bank. Just because some people are storing illegally gotten goods or funds in these places - even if the owners are helping with this - does not mean all the people using it for legitimate purposes should one day find that none of their goods are available to them.
From the aspect of due process, it is worth noting that nothing has been proven in a court of law, just an indictment filed. Advocates against SOPA/PIPA, or those against the manner in which MegaUpload was dealt with are not (necessarily) asking for the decriminalization of pirated material; instead, it is an issue with the lack of legitimate due process and extraordinary powers taken by the DOJ to attack outside of a court system even when it affects the livelihoods of large amounts of people all arround the world.
Full Tilt Poker:
In March of 2011, the US Department of Justice shut down the big three online poker sites operating in the US. Despite these being companies not owned or based in the US, and despite online poker being legal in places like Canada where I live, the DOJ had the power to shut down the websites worldwide. Attempts to visit the domain look a lot like Megaupload.com looks right now.
I have (had?) a large sum of money and bonuses at Full Tilt Poker. Eventually, I will probably get this money back. FTP has been bought out, on the condition of player repayment, and is in the middle of negotiating with the US DOJ on the details of returning the money to players. US players had no warning, one day they simply were not able to log in because of the DOJ action. International players, such as myself, had this warning but there were significant reasons to believe, at the time, that FTP was no different than Pokerstars which has had no problem internationally and I play on to this day. It was due to action by the Alderney Gambling Commission, an independent body unrelated to the US, that resulted in the international FTP site being shut down.
Now I should be clear: FTP was undoubtably engaging in criminal acts that extend quite a bit beyond just the online poker (a law that should be overturned) and into various fraudulent financial trickery. Several people in the company will probably, and should, go to jail. However, the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars of US player funds have been held hostage for what will likely be over a year is unacceptable.
Whatever one thinks about whether online poker or pirating material should be legal or illegal, I would hope there could be agreement that the process for dealing with such violations should be held to the same kinds of standards for due process and the rule of law as any other business. The Internet is fundamentally different than other businesses in many ways that presents challenges to issues of regulation and policing. However, the answer to this ought not to be the creation of an increasingly powerful authority that has the ability to significantly impact enormous amounts of innocent people - and their core rights to privacy and freedom - just to get at the (alleged) law breakers.
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