Human rights activists and whistle blowers could be "major casualties" of a copyright protection bill proposed by the House Judiciary Committee in late October, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would make it easier for U.S. authorities to crack down on websites accused of pirating movies, television shows and music. It would allow the government and copyright owners to disable the credit card processors of sites they claim “engages in, enables or facilitates” copyright infringement.
It would also require Internet service providers to “take technically feasible and reasonable measures" to block "rogue" sites from their customers.
The legislation is so broad it could be used to target online anonymity tools used by human rights activists, according to the EFF. The software Tor, for instance, which has been used to protect activists in Tunisia and Egypt, could be targeted because it can be used to hide one's IP address when illegally downloading copyrighted content.
Corporations could also use SOPA to force companies to stop processing donations to whistle blower sites that post any documents that are copyrightable or contain trade secrets.
"It’s unclear whether SOPA’s authors intended it to cover these websites that are vital to whistleblowing and human rights," Trevor Timm of the EFF said. "If they didn’t, they need to press re-set; and next time, consult with the numerous Internet communities the bill could affect, rather than exclusively Hollywood lobbyists."
The legislation is a companion bill to the controversial PROTECT IP Act, which is currently stuck in the Senate after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) placed a hold on the bill in May.
“I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective,” Wyden said in a statement.
Both bills are supported by businesses and organizations across the political spectrum, from labor unions to the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, to the National Association of Broadcasters and the cable industry.
In a letter to members of Congress, the powerful Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetCoalition described SOPA as a "litigation and liability nightmare for Internet and technology companies and social media."