- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2010

Al Gore’s most famous claimed invention, the Internet, has become a thorn in the side of the left. Online shopping protects consumers from having their pockets picked by the tax man. News and discussion forums have debunked various frauds from global warming to red-light cameras. Now congressional Democrats are leading the charge to give Washington a say in which websites ought to exist.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved legislation that would give the attorney general a virtual blank check to shut down any Internet site that he claims “has no demonstrable commercially significant purpose or use” other than copyright infringement. Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, introduced the bill handing the Obama administration the power to pull the plug on websites that contain no actual illegal material. It is sufficient that a site be declared guilty of “provision of a link or aggregated links to other sites” for a compliant judge to issue a take-down order. Bureaucrats at the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year claimed websites like the Drudge Report “use” copyrighted material by providing links to stories and that such sites might be taxed.

Were the attorney general to share this view, such sites could be taken down without a hearing or appeal. If that sounds a bit like how the Chinese government silences websites critical of the authoritarian regime, that’s because the mechanisms Mr. Leahy would put in place are very similar. Internet service providers (ISPs) and registrars would be forced to erase all traces of forbidden websites as if they had never existed. In what must be a first for a Democratic proposal, trial lawyers are cut out of the process as an ISP has immunity for actions “voluntarily taken” against sites it “reasonably believes” are involved in infringement. Vigilantism continues as the administration would encourage collection of anonymous tips recommending sites for termination. A special program would be set up “to receive information from the public about Internet sites that are dedicated to infringing activities.”

Such a dramatic violation of due process would ordinarily only be made in the name of fighting terrorism. Here, the measure is a transparent payoff to Hollywood moguls desperate to protect their obsolete business models. That’s why defeated members of Congress should not be allowed to sneak this legislation through the lame-duck session. No administration should have the ability to censor inconvenient speech.