Thursday, December 15, 2011

BILL

A bill is a constitutional (or unconstitutional) four letter word.

I try not to repeat words.  I really try not to repeat words just days after rambling how I'm not going to repeat words.  But there are a confluence of events today that makes this, and no other, word exceptionally suitable.

220 years ago, on this date in 1791, the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia ratified 12 proposed amendments to the US Constitution.  With the earlier ratification of 10 of these amendments by ten other states, these were then adopted as part of the Constitution, and later collectively known as the Bill of Rights.  They form the cornerstone of the rights we enjoy today as Americans and include rights in areas of speech, privacy, the military, and the judicial system.

It is shocking to me, and tragically ironic, that on this day, the US Congress is trying to undermine not one, but TWO rights that we take for granted today.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), actions which are illegal, but which have been authorized in limited cases, are now explicitly made legal.  This includes indefinite detention of American citizens on American soil if there is any suspicion of terrorism - it does not require any acts, nor even proof before a judge or court of law.  This would seem to be a blatant violation of the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments which guarantee rights to indictment by Grant Jury, rights to a lawyer, and rights to a trial by jury.

The seemingly well intentioned Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) seems poised to violate the First Amendment by imposing a heavy handed censorship on the Internet.  Under its many provisions, it now makes it a felony to stream copyrighted videos, allows for a copyright holder to shut down a website or its advertising account without a trial, dismantles previous copyright enforcement measures (which have been abused by many large copyright holders), and guarantees immunity from prosecution to Internet companies who assist in the censorship.  It is overly broad in that instead of narrowly focusing on the material that is in violation, it seeks to shut down sites or servers that may contain infringing material, even if the site is mostly dedicated to lawful content distribution, or the server is used by clients completely unrelated to the website that is in violation.

Take action now.

Do not let these bills trample over the bills that were passed 220 years ago.