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SOPA blowback, and other tech predictions for 2013

Tech immigration, cybersecurity and Internet taxes will be the leading issues in the next Congress

December 26, 2012 06:02 AM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- The most controversial tech issue taken up by the outgoing Congress was, by far, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). This legislation drew a humongous public outcry that prompted a wholesale retreat by its supporters. But thanks to the lessons learned from SOPA, there may be new opportunities for lawmakers in the next Congress, which takes office in January.

Millions of people protested SOPA in online forums, in emails, on Twitter, on Facebook -- and in old-fashioned telephone calls. They emerged with the power of a special interest group, like the AARP or the NRA. It was a grassroots "Netizen" uprising.

On one level, SOPA was a fight between industry groups: the big music and movie content providers vs. the tech industry. But for those who protested on Reddit and elsewhere, it was about something more fundamental: Internet freedom.

In pursuit of copyright protections, SOPA would have given courts new ability to block offending websites and monitor traffic. This did not sit well with many already simmering over draconian court awards against students for copyright infringement.

What did SOPA accomplish? It told lawmakers that there is a very large group of people who don't want the Internet burdened with regulation designed to protect certain industries. They don't want any law that increases the risk of censorship and government intrusion. That might be the basis of SOPA blowback.

No doubt, industry groups will work to get bills introduced that have some limited SOPA-type provisions. But in the new Congress, lawmakers from both parties may have more interest in gaining the favor of the young and engaged protestors.

SOPA blowback legislation may take the shape of new laws that curb million-dollar-plus damage awards for infringement, or something like the Pandora-backed Internet Radio Fairness Act that attempts to set royalty terms for Internet broadcasters. This particular bill raised too many questions to get action this year, but it has bipartisan sponsors and will likely be back, unlike SOPA.

From interviews, some on background and some on the record, here's the outlook for the next Congress's IT-related legislative agenda.

A White House order could force Congress's hand on cybersecurity

In October, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that a cyberattack "could be as destructive as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and could "virtually paralyze the nation."

Panetta's warning came as Congress was considering cybersecurity legislation. The House was considering the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (H.R. 3523), better known as CISPA, and the Senate had the Cyber Security Act of 2012 (S. 3414). But these efforts ran into the same problem that has hobbled every attempt at enacting security legislation since 9/11: Industry groups don't want new regulations or liabilities.

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