The U.S. International Trade Commission has asserted the authority to block Internet transmissions, according to some net-neutrality advocates who are crying foul over the decision.
In a letter Friday (April 10) to the ITC, 28 organizations and individuals took issue with a decision by the commission last fall concluding that the ITC's authority to prevent the importation of infringing products extended to digital models, data and treatment plans for dental appliances.
The groups were a Who's Who of net-neutrality fans including the ACLU, Free Press, Fight for the Future and Public Knowledge.
They said they were concerned about the precedent of finding that transmission of digital data was an importation of articles subject to the ITC's authority to block.
Preventing the blocking of content by ISPs was one of the FCC's chief arguments for imposing its new Open Internet rules, but here it is a federal agency that is asserting the authority to block.
"[W]e urge the Commission to reconsider, for future investigations, its decision that pure data transmissions are within the ambit of the Commission’s powers," the groups said. "The decision has enormous ramifications, opening the door to Internet content blocking efforts rejected by Congress and the public. But the Commission took this monumental step not after public debate or Congressional review, but rather in the context of a single, idiosyncratic patent case."
Public Knowledge said it is concerned that the Motion Picture Association of America will leverage the decision to force websites to block content, an approach to online piracy prevention Public Knowledge argued was rejected in the SOPA/PIPA debate outcome.
“Our concern was starkly heightened when we learned last December that the MPAA intends to use this ruling to force Internet Service Providers to perform website blocking," Public Knowledge said. "This website-blocking practice, which was rejected in the 2011 SOPA/PIPA debates, contravenes the ISP immunities embodied in the copyright statutes. It’s also bad policy overall. But the ITC’s decision to declare authority over Internet content transmissions opens the door to these troubling misuses of the ITC."
“The issue whether the ITC has jurisdiction over electronic transmissions is now on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit," the MPAA said in a statement in response. "The amicus brief that we filed expresses our belief that Congress has given the ITC broad authority to protect U.S. industries from unfair acts in importation – including online copyright infringement - with a jurisdiction that encompasses electronic transmissions. Undercutting the ITC’s jurisdiction in this area will hurt the rapid growth of domestic and international marketplaces for distributing content digitally, and ultimately undermine the Commission’s mandate to protect American businesses.”