In a statement released Tuesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa criticized an amendment proposed by Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, saying it does not fix anything and would give “Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice broad new powers to police the Internet.”
SOPA, which is Smith’s bill, would place authority over websites that facilitate copyright infringement under Justice Department jurisdiction. Under SOPA, the Justice Department would have to lay out its case before a federal court that the foreign site is illegal and infringes upon copyright law before obtaining a court order to block the site or sever its financial ties.
The bill — heavily criticized by politicians, social networking sites and political advocacy groups for its “broad reach” — is expected to see full committee markup before Smith’s House Judiciary Committee Thursday. The bill currently has the support of 31 bipartisan cosponsors, in addition to many groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, MPAA, RIAA, Comcast and Go Daddy.
“The manager’s amendment retains the fundamental flaws of its predecessor by blocking Americans’ ability to access websites, imposing costly regulation on web companies and giving Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice broad new powers to police the internet,” said Issa.
Smith, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, responded to Issa in a statement to The Daily Caller. Smith said that critics of SOPA “continue to rely upon fiction rather than the facts.”
“Comments that the entire Justice Department cannot be trusted because of Attorney General Eric Holder demean the hard work of thousands of career prosecutors and attorneys-in-the-field who have no political, personal or professional affiliation with the Obama administration,” said Smith.
The Obama administration — through the Federal Trade Commission’s recent settlements with Google and Facebook, and the Federal Communications Commission’s passage of its so-called “net neutrality” regulations — has slowly expanded the executive branch’s power over the Internet.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security — has also conducted operations two years in a row devoted to taking down “rogue sites,” determined by ICE to be facilitating the infringement of U.S. intellectual property.
In the past Holder has called for what he terms “reasonable” regulation of how people interact on the Internet.
During NPR’s Morning Edition on May 28, 1999, then Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder — in response to the Columbine massacre, which happened a month earlier — said: “The court has really struck down every government effort to try to regulate it. We tried with regard to pornography. It is gonna be a difficult thing, but it seems to me that if we can come up with reasonable restrictions, reasonable regulations in how people interact on the Internet, that is something that the Supreme Court and the courts ought to favorably look at.”
Issa and Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden are expected to formally introduce their own bi-partisan anti-piracy alternative to SOPA, the Open Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, on Wednesday. OPEN would grant law enforcement authority to the International Trade Commission, which reports to both the executive and legislative branches and often works in concert with the Department of Commerce over trade disputes.
Smith, in his response to Issa’s statement, also voiced his objections to OPEN. Smith said that opponents of SOPA “express concern over DOJ’s role in the enforcement of intellectual property law, but have no problem giving President Obama the authority to pardon foreign rogue websites for mere ‘policy reasons.'”
“Sponsors of the OPEN Act seem fine with President Obama being able to use this authority at his political will, but are unwilling to trust the judiciary and federal courts who have handled intellectual property enforcement for decades,” said Smith.
This latest Issa statement adds to the list of criticisms the top House oversight member has of the Justice Department. Issa is already investigating Holder’s involvement in Operation Fast and Furious. Fast and Furious was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program overseen by the DOJ. The operation facilitated the sale of thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers.
This story was updated after publication to include comments from Rep. Smith.