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Kaspersky Lab, WebSense make anti-censorship statements

Technology vendors are always putting together industry consortiums to promote the development and adoption of new technologies or to advance their general business interests. But sometimes they make these moves out of conscience.

Earlier this week information security vendor Kaspersky Lab announced that it would withdraw from the Business Software Alliance (BSA) next month because of the group’s support for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) SOPA, for those who don’t know, is legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives whose purpose is: “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property and for other purposes.”

Eugene Kaspersky, blogged about his reasons for his company withdrawing BSA. He noted that the law will require that anybody infringing on U.S copyrights will be “cut off from the Internet by all search engines, ISPs, credit systems and other levers of control, without exception.”

Kaspersky objects to the fact that this legislation would impose American copyright enforcement laws beyond its own borders via its domination of the Internet, while doing nothing to protect the copyrights of non-Americans.

He also objects to the broad definition of copyright infringement and its potential for abuse, a notion that many other critics have voiced.

“Copyright infringement” is understood in its broadest sense here: an amateur movie which includes quotations from a copyright-protected script or soundtrack would qualify, so would a home movie filmed while Kung Fu Panda played on a TV screen in the background. Some more nice examples here. Any use of any ‘intellectual property’ object is regarded as a violation resulting in a blog – or even an entire web resource – being closed down.

If we accept this law, hundreds of thousands of lawyers will suddenly appear out of the woodwork because almost any website can be accused of copyright infringement! This law will lead to major legalized extortion.

Critics of SOPA, like Kaspersky, believe that the legislation will lead to broad censorship by aggressive copyright enforcers. And so Kaspersky Lab is withdrawing from the BSA out of protest for its support for SOPA.

Meanwhile, another vendor has joined a different consortium also in an effort to combat network censorship. This morning network security vendor Websense announced that it was joining the Global Network Initiative (GNI), an organization established “to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT [Information and Communication Technology] sector.”

Websense has been outspoken in recent months about its efforts to keep its network filtering technology out of the hands of governments that would use it to censor and spy on citizens. This issue has been in the news in recent months because of revelations that the Syrian government was using Blue Coat filtering technology in its efforts to shut down anti-government protests. In response to that news, Websense recently posted that it dealt with a similar issue in 2009 when it discovered that a Yemeni ISP had somehow acquired Websense technology and was using it to censor the Internet. Websense disabled its software remotely to prevent the censorship from continuing.

In its statement on this issue, Websense wrote:

American software companies should take strong measures to prevent the misuse of their technologies where it would be harmful to the public good. And it’s long overdue for American technology companies to step forward and address this problem.

Now Websense has taken another step to raise awareness about this by joining the GNI, essentially agreeing that it will abide by the GNI’s principals to promote an open and free global Internet.

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