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Why Can Canadians Just Ignore SOPA?

The answer to this article’s title question could simply be “because I live in Canada where our government is NOT pursuing internet censorship” or “because I can use Wikipedia in French”.  However, as a result of pages like Wikipedia (let’s be honest, it’s only Wikipedia that anybody cares about) ironically deciding to restrict access to their content, I’ve spent a good portion of my time today reading comments from Canadians upset that SOPA will somehow impose Orwellian censorship on their lives.  It seems that we have decided to not just ignore the nonsense coming up from the US and so I feel a more through explanation of why SOPA is nothing to get all worked up about.

Don't you dare press that button!
SOPA is an acronym that I – along with countless others – have been avoiding on the internet for weeks.  It stands for the “Stop Online Piracy Act” that is being placed before the US government in an attempt to control what Americans are able to access on the internet.  In short, if the act is passed and becomes law, the US Department of Justice will be able to seek court orders that would block online advertisers from doing business and, prevent search engines from providing links to websites that are accused of copyright infringement.  More interestingly, it would allow the DoJ to compel internet service providers sto completely prevent their customers from being able to access offending pages.  Critics have rightfully been labelling such actions as government censorship that restricts freedom of speech.  Well, restricts it if you’re an American.

No, SOPA does not authorise the US Office of Censorship to send Facebook down to Gitmo.
What I’m about to say may come as a shock to people who believe the conspiracy theory that the United States rules the world.  The US Department of Justice has ABSOLUTELY NO JURISDICTION to regulate the internet outside of US territory.  If you’re reading this from Canada, it’s safe to say that your internet is provided by either Rogers or Bell; both Canadian companies that are restricted by Canadian, not American law.  What does this mean to the layman?  Simply put, the US could pass a law that forbids citizens from using the internet at all, ever, under any circumstances and Canadians would still have unfettered access to all the free encyclopaedias, videos of cats and… well, other things that the internet provides.  Short of military conquest, the US has no authority to control what we, as Canadians get to see online. 

Where the colour changes is called a "border".  When you cross it, the laws change, the money changes, and you have to speak "American".
I think most of the misunderstandings arise from the fact that people have a horrible understanding of how the internet works.  Contrary to popular belief, there is no master switch on a computer somewhere that can turn off the internet nor is there a building in the middle of the Nevada desert that houses every website in the world.  The US government cannot force webpages stored on servers outside their borders to cease to exist, they can only block people who use American service providers from accessing them.  Even if SOPA blocks American access to websites, the sites can still be accessed in literally any other country in the world.  Long story short, American restrictions on web activity have just about as much relevance in Canada as Chinese censors do.  China doesn’t let their citizens access websites that are related to, say, hostile civil revolutions in which totalitarian governments are toppled.  However, those websites still exist and I have access to them in good ol’ Canada.

See in between Switzerland and Austria?  That tiny dot is Liechtenstein.  They'll still have access.
 In any case, rather than continuing to focus on a technical evaluation of the logistics of an act like SOPA, let’s take a quick look at the political realities.  President Obama has openly and clearly stated that he will not support SOPA.  Yes, there are sources other than this blog that verify this claim.  Some of them can be found HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE – oh and HERE.  The US government has this thing called a “Presidential Veto” which, much like Canada’s “Royal Assent” allows the head of state to veto, or prevent any law from taking effect.  Every single member of the US government could support SOPA, but without Obama’s support, it will never take effect.  Since Obama has made it pretty darn clear that he won’t support the SOPA, fears that the fundamental fabric that composes the internet are about to be destroyed are little more than sensationalism.

Meet David Johnston: Governor General of Canada, "Veto Master".
Let’s be clear, as Canadians, SOPA itself will have absolutely no effect on our lives.  What will be a pain though is overreaction from American citizens who have decided to hold some of the most heavily trafficked webpages hostage from the rest of the world.  Canadians will not experience any unreasonable restrictions on internet use aside from those forced upon us by non-government actors in the states.  Unfortunately, we are being dragged along with the internal affairs of a foreign country.  We’re all frustrated with the lack of Wikipedia today and there’s nothing wrong with complaining about it, but let’s not confuse the matter; whatever happens with SOPA, US law doesn’t extend to Canadian jurisdiction.  The US can censor the crap out of their citizens, but they can never control what pages we access in Canada.

I use both Twitter AND Facebook, I search Wikipedia in French AND English, I can access any website I want at any time without restriction.  My name is Spencer and I am Canadian!

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