Internet wars

Have you heard of the Copyright Alert System?

It all started when this country's music and movie powerhouses—the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America—partnered with the nation's biggest Internet-service providers—Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc.—to monitor users' Internet habits.

This isn't the first time ISPs and Hollywood have joined forces: Remember the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act, or SOPA and PIPA, which never made it far in Congress but were trailblazing efforts to monitor and throttle Internet users?

The Copyright Alert System is similar. And it doesn't need to pass Congress: It's already in the works.

What's it do, exactly? The ISPs and Hollywood hired a third-party company to monitor what we do online. Everything. But if you illegally download the latest episode of Homeland, or Peter Jackson's new Hobbit flick, this third party will mark a “strike” on your permanent Internet record. Ooh.

Six strikes, however, and the third party will rat you out to the ISPs: “Hey, this guy's downloading way too much illegal stuff.”

This means the ISP will penalize you. And, while the ISPs haven't disclosed how exactly they intend to punish users, rumors include slowing down Internet speeds, redirecting browsers—basically whatever penalties they want to impose, including the blocking of thousands of Internet domains.

That's the rub: ISPs and Hollywood are colluding sans oversight to pluck, monitor, disseminate and now criminalize the online habits of millions of Americans. The Copyright Alert System will operate with little transparency or accountability. Who knows where this road leads. Congress should be preventing ISPs from infringing consumer's Internet habits, not looking the other way.