ThoughtWorks Technology Advisory Board Statement on SOPA / PIPA
Like many people in the technology community we have been disturbed by several aspects of the recent SOPA and PIPA (Protect IP) legislation currently proceeding in the Congress of the United States of America.
Because we are a technology company, we think it is important that we clearly state our concerns about this legislation, since we believe it will lead to serious problems with Internet security and civil liberties.
We understand that online piracy is a serious problem and that copyright holders need the means to protect their rights. Many of us are technical authors who have produced commercial books and videos; and we do not approve of sites that engage in online piracy. We do not, however, believe that SOPA or PIPA are fair and effective measures against such sites.
As a software company we depend on a functioning Internet, so it is particularly important that we make our opinions known on the technical aspects of these bills. A clear sign of concern is that many of the designers of core Internet protocols have expressed their opposition to these bills  .
The technical approach that these bills advocate involves the manipulation of DNS, a core protocol of the Internet  . DNS is a constant feature of Internet activity, and it's a credit to its designers that it happens robustly and efficiently on a network as large and unreliable as the global Internet.
The problems with manipulating DNS fall into three broad areas  .
- The measures in the bills are in conflict with DNSSEC, which is widely used by legitimate websites to enhance user and site security.
- Users can easily circumvent these measures, rendering the whole approach ineffective.
- By encouraging circumvention, the security and performance of DNS, and thus many parts of Internet communication, will degrade.
These concerns are enough to make anyone with a technical background lack confidence, but the problem is exacerbated by the lack of consultation with technical experts during the process. Congressional hearings in late 2011 failed to call any technical experts to give testimony. There seems to have been little involvement from people familiar with the Internet's technical underpinning. To take effective actions to deal with the problem of online piracy, we must found solutions on sound engineering to ensure we don’t cause more damage than we seek to heal.
We believe that laws should be framed in a manner that balances protection of the innocent with punishment of the guilty. Although our position as a software company means we've concentrated on the technical problems with these bills, we would be remiss in not mentioning equally grave concerns about the lack of due process. These bills are worryingly weak in safeguarding due process, which means that websites operating in good faith could easily be subjected to erroneous prosecution by federal agencies or to legal actions by private companies  . We are particularly concerned about the potential these bills have to allow companies with well-funded legal operations to bully small outfits.
Due to our concerns mentioned above, we oppose this legislation and sincerely hope the United States Congress will not enact it into law. We encourage anyone who agrees with us to share their opposition with Congress.
The ThoughtWorks Technology Advisory Board
- Evan Bottcher, Principal Consultant, Melbourne, Australia
- Graham Brooks, Principal Consultant, New York, NY, USA
- Ian Cartwright, Principal Consultant, Manchester, UK
- Erik Dörnenburg, Head of Technology, Hamburg, Germany
- Ronaldo Ferraz, Principal Consultant, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil
- W James Fischer, Sr Advisor, Naples, FL, USA
- Neal Ford, Software Architect/Meme Wrangler, Atlanta, GA, USA
- Martin Fowler, Chief Scientist, Boston, MA, USA
- Wendy Istvanick, Lead Consultant - Object Tactician, Chicago, IL, USA
- Badrinath Janakiraman, Developer, San Francisco, CA, USA
- James Lewis, Software Architect, London, UK
- Mike Mason, Head of Technology, Calgary, Canada
- Cyndi Mitchell, Managing Director, ThoughtWorks Studios, London, UK
- Sam Newman, Principal Consultant, London, UK
- Jeff Norris, Principal Consultant, Cleveland, OH, USA
- Rebecca Parsons, Chief Technology Officer, Seattle, WA, USA
- David Rice, Director, San Francisco, CA, USA
- Pramod Sadalage, Principal Consultant, Chicago, IL, USA
- Scott Shaw, Director of Technology, Melbourne, Australia
 - 83 prominent Internet inventors and engineers sent an open letter to congress stating their opposition to the technical measures in the bill.
 -This is the service that translates human readable domain names (such as thoughtworks.com) into the underlying IP addresses (such as 188.8.131.52) that are actually used to route transmissions.
 - For a more in-depth analysis of these issues see Crocker et al's paper (pdf)