Letter from Vint Cerf to the House Judiciary Committee Regarding SOPA


December 14, 2011

The Honorable Lamar Smith
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representative
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Smith:

I appreciate the opportunity to express my concerns about and opposition to the managers’ amendment to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and, in particular, the “technological solutions” related to the Domain Name System (DNS) and search engines.

By way of background, I am a Vice President and the Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. I also serve as a Fellow of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and I am a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

I have held positions at MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, Stanford University, UCLA and IBM. Until 2007 I served as chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and I was the founding president of the Internet Society.

As one of the “fathers of the Internet” and as a computer scientist I care deeply about issues relating to the Internet’s infrastructure. In that spirit I wish to join the Internet and cybersecurity experts who have already expressed concern about the original version of SOPA’s DNS provisions. Former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker, Sandia National Laboratories, small businesses such as OpenDNS, inter-industry groups such as the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG), five leading DNS engineers (Steve Crocker, David Dagon, Dan Kaminsky, Danny McPherson, and Paul Vixie), and dozens of individual security experts have detailed these concerns in previous letters.

Unfortunately, the amendments to SOPA do not resolve the fundamental flaws in this legislation; the bill will still undermine cybersecurity including the robust implementation of DNS Security Extensions, known more commonly as DNSSEC.

Section 102(e)(2)(i) continues to require service providers to block access to sites. While that provision no longer mandates DNS blocking in order to accomplish that goal, it still permits falsifying IP addresses in response to domain name resolution requests. Any response that provides a false IP address triggers potential damage to the intent of DNSSEC.

If these changes were meant to dispel the concerns of the security community, then they fall far short of the mark. The Section 102(e)(2)(ii) “safe harbor” effectively singles out the manipulation of DNS as the preferred mechanism for blocking access to sites. A key presumption in the Internet design and architecture is the global consistency of DNS lookup responses.

I continue to have concerns regarding the efficacy and wisdom of this legislation. First, attempts to manipulate DNS will reduce the utility of DNS as our chief mechanism for locating sites, and encourage abusers to adopt alternative mechanisms, such as IP address lists. Second, clients of the infringing content can readily change their DNS settings to utilize offshore DNS resolvers. Third, sites dedicated to infringement have many options for evading these measures, such as registering multiple domain names with offshore registries in order to stay ahead of court orders. Fourth, falsifying responses to domain name resolution requests will compromise the “downgrade resistance” of next-generation improvements to DNSSEC, because systems that do not receive a signed answer from a resolver will fall back to accepting unsigned responses to resolve a domain name.

Thus, even with the proposed manager’s amendment, SOPA’s site-blocking provisions remain problematic. They would undermine the architecture of the Internet and obstruct the 15 year effort by the public and private sectors to improve cybersecurity through implementation of DNSSEC, a critical set of extensions designed to address security vulnerabilities in the DNS.

This collateral damage of SOPA would be particularly regrettable because site blocking or redirection mechanisms are unlikely to make a significant dent in the availability of infringing material and counterfeits online, given that DNS manipulation can be defeated by simply choosing an offshore DNS resolution provider, maintaining one’s own local DNS cache or using direct IP address references.

The search engine remedy also suffers from the fact that it will not be effective in preventing users’ access to illegal, offshore websites. A congressional “tech mandate” on search engines to delete a domain name from search results does not result in the website disappearing. Users can and do today find their way to these websites largely without the help of search engines. Relative to the questionable efficacy of this proposed remedy, requiring search engines to delete a domain name begins a worldwide arms race of unprecedented “censorship” of the Web.

Rather than continuing to promote ineffective and harmful “technical” solutions as those found in the managers’ amendment to SOPA, I urge Congress to pursue a more tailored, effective approach, such as the “follow-the-money” tactic. Such an approach would cut off funding mechanisms to rogue foreign sites by withholding their ability to generate advertising revenue and their ability to have payments processed.


Vint Cerf

cc: Members of the House Judiciary Committee



  37 Responses to “Letter from Vint Cerf to the House Judiciary Committee Regarding SOPA”

  1. […] Letter from Vint Cerf to the Members of the House Judiciary Committee, December 14, 2011. […]

  2. […] any user savvy enough to use simple software tools. Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, said as much in his letter to Congress earlier this month, even listing the exact ways DNS filtering would be circumvented. “This collateral damage of […]

  3. […] any user savvy adequate to use elementary module tools. Vint Cerf, one of a founders of a Internet, pronounced as most in his minute to Congress progressing this month , even inventory a accurate ways DNS filtering would be circumvented. “This element repairs of […]

  4. […] any user savvy enough to use simple software tools. Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, said as much in his letter to Congress earlier this month, even listing the exact ways DNS filtering would be circumvented. “This collateral damage of SOPA […]

  5. […] any user savvy enough to use simple software tools. Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, said as much in his letter to Congress earlier this month, even listing the exact ways DNS filtering would be circumvented. “This collateral damage of SOPA […]

  6. […] Sandia Lab and every other significant cybersecurity expert and organization. The engineers who created the Internet, who created the most popular software for routing Internet traffic, and most Internet engineers […]

  7. A free and open internet is essential for a free and open society!


  9. Are we a socialist country where EVERYTHING is regulated by the government? What happened to being a FREE country?

  10. “The purpose behind terrorism is to instill fear in people – the fear that electrical power, for instance, will be taken away or the transportation system will be taken down.” – V.G.C.

    >>> The government should just let him do his job!!! they look like idiots!!! for trying to pull this off – trying to deal with something that is much bigger than themselves >.<

  11. How long before we are so CENSORED , REGULATED and POLICED on the internet by our government in these UNITED STATES OF AMERICA that we become another CHINA or NORTH KOREA? To make something TABOO is to create a demand that will only go UNDERGROUND.

    • Actually China censors don’t go as far as to say you can’t post a personal photo of you wearing name brand clothing next to your car without having the host site sued by the clothing company as well as the car company and essentially being put on a government controlled blacklist. I truly hope I’m dead long before I see our countries government utterly destroy every last shred of what this country stands for.

  12. We do not need censorship!!! What are we going to burn computers like books and art and everything else the bothers anyone? This country was founded on freedoms.. It should be run on freedoms. Think about the huge government agency that would have to oversee this. We do not need more government. George Orwell really did know the outcome……BIG BROTHER!!!!

  13. Mr. Smith I promise you that if you continue to support SOPA I will send ANY future candidate against you a large sum of Campaign cash you throw you out of office.


  15. Stand together, or the United States of America become the Untied States of America!

  16. Once upon a time, the internet was a little used, misunderstood option in our lives. Today, it represents the backbone of world communication. Restricting the internet in the United States is really no different than living under communist censorship.

  17. What can i say?

  18. Yet another example of our government allowing corporations (in this case Hollywood Studios and the Recording Industry) have a voice over the people in governing our country. Tailor your votes next year to reflect upon this issue and vote those who support SOPA and PIPA out of office. Show DC and their corporate backers what real democracy looks like by voting these tools out of office.

  19. Vote for libertarian Ron Paul to rid of this unlawful act. Fascism at it’s finest.

  20. Freedom of the internet is essential to
    our rights as American citizens – And that freedom is what makes us the great country we are. Stop this censorship and allow us to think for ourselves. There are more effective ways to stop piracy!

  21. when will you stop! We do not want to be censored. You are ruining the core of our nation.

  22. Hollywood lobbyists must be behind this package of bills. They are getting too powerful. It isn’t enough to make 300M$ on a movie’s box office returns. Charge us a buck-a-movie voluntary rental fee, and we would probably pay it. I would. And do pay the people who worked on the movies as well as the studios get paid – including those NOT working for unions, and you might lose your label of “greedy”.

  23. Please let us keep our rights to pursue innovations and creativity. Censorship turns great minds into idiots!

  24. A candid and sobering letter by Mr. Cerf. Vint and the resources he cites should all be instrumental in the redraft of this obviously flawed piece of legislation, to protect our freedoms and do what they’ve done best for decades, use their vision. Rev1?

  25. Whatever happened to the U.S. living by the Constitution? Does this mean if I post a hyperlink to the Constitution for everyone’s S/A the United States will sue me for copyright infringement? http://constitutionus.com/

  26. STOP. If this goes through, the whole economy will get even more messed up than it is… Do you even know what normal people are like, and what they use the internet for? Do you not know that every student or anyone with a job needs it? Or do you not give a damn cause they’re not you? Have fun following China in they’re footsteps, yeah..

  27. Goodbye America, hellllloooo Korea!

  28. Dear Mr. USA,

    Freedom of Speech is all we have now.
    Please don’t take that away too.

    Like the so called “Patriot Act” which is anything but “Patriot”. It only passed because people were so hype about the U.S. being attacked again. I don’t see why the Government gives a dam about something they never did. What about all the black-market’s going on in the 90’s, like cable decoding boxes, etc… The U.S. Government did nothing! At the same, the U.S. Government spends billions of our tax dollars to illegally pirate and to make public our personal identifiable information as well as digital driver’s license photos through systems like NCIC and CJIS 2000 Databases. The U.S. Government allowing the Three Credit Company’s, Experian, Equifax and Trans Union to release our Social Security Numbers to the Public via companies like http://www.ussearch.com and http://www.integrascan.com to criminals to make credit cards in our names and fraudulent ruin our credit scores and capability. The U.S. Government spending more than a billion of our tax dollars in the HIPPA laws to take away our suing capability against doctors for not safeguarding our private medical records, BUT at the same time, paying these same doctors for them to post our private medical records to online companies as mentioned in the “Affordable Care Act” to a World Wide Web they admit here they don’t trust!

  29. Vint Cerf is certainly the Citizen of the Day. His work and those of his contemporaries have eloquently spoken for itself by example of organized and honest Labor; for the good of the Internet, the United States and the World.

    How Dare those and their henchmen crafting that heinous legislation, seek to oppress the world into ignorance and poverty by returning McCarthyism to the Halls of Government, which by use of seemingly noble instruments of law seek to create an entanglement that would halt progress and incarcerate Freedom of Speech and access to Education, the two Major instruments of the Constitution and by its enrichment of our lives thereby serves all who would drink at that fountain of knowledge the Internet provides.

    The strings behind that legislation are the Puppet Masters seeking to control our minds and pockets through intimidation, persecution and use of contemptuously oily legislation. By those who do their bidding, the Senate and House members who work for the 1%…. , those, _Un-Republican ‘connivers in the closet’_, beating their drums constantly, making noise to confuse the issues, … blowing smoke into the mirrors of our minds.

    Sons and Daughters of those who fought WW-2 and gave their lives for Liberty, Equality and Justice; Please, Stand up and be counted. Refuse to allow this assault on our liberties.

    Support the Constitution crafted by Older Sons and Daughter of the Revolution against the ‘King George Party’, resist the effort to TAX our lives again, as they continue trying to do! GMLOGMD said Patrick Henry, I choose Liberty, please do the same.

    • Uh, history has shown that McCarthy was right.

      Were you out with Ron Paul smoking a joint when the news came?

  30. This taking a step backwards. This would not help our economy at all; it would only further our nation’s inevitable downfall. To pass these bills is to ask for mass rioting. I’m highly disappointed with the American government for even considering such an idiotic method of solving piracy problems.

  31. Any democrat or RINO who votes for this nonsense needs a beatdown next election.

    And NO, Ron Paul’s appeal lies with those who want legal hard drugs. No thanks!


  33. […] In an open letter to Smith, Cerf wrote, “This collateral damage of SOPA would be particularly regrettable because site blocking or redirection mechanisms are unlikely to make a significant dent in the availability of infringing material and counterfeits online.” […]

  34. […] In an open letter to Smith, Cerf wrote, “This collateral damage of SOPA would be particularly regrettable because site blocking or redirection mechanisms are unlikely to make a significant dent in the availability of infringing material and counterfeits online.” […]

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