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Lanham Napier: The TT Interview

The chief executive of the web hosting company Rackspace on why the tech industry is against the bills that federal lawmakers have filed to stop online piracy and other cyber crimes.

Lanham Napier, the chief executive officer of the web hosting company Rackspace

Curious as to why some of your favorite websites have gone dark today? The answer lies in two acronyms — SOPA and PIPA — that could have a huge impact on the internet.

Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing are among the websites protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act, filed by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act, with an internet “blackout” today.

Both bills aim to curtail online piracy and other cyber crimes, such as the distribution of potentially harmful counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Although many people in the tech community agree that online crimes need to be stopped, they argue these bills would damage the economy, free speech and technological innovation.

Find more information on how SOPA would target cyber crimes and affect American businesses here.

To address concerns about SOPA, federal lawmakers had scheduled a hearing for today with expert witnesses from the technology industry. It was postponed after Smith released a statement Friday saying he plans to remove one of the most controversial provisions in the bill, Domain Name System blocking, which would have allowed a federal judge to order American companies to block U.S. customers’ access to an infringing foreign website’s address on the web. 

“After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision,” Smith said in the news release.

The controversy surrounding the bills also prompted the White House to release a statement Monday that said the Obama administration would not support legislation that would "tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security." The statement did not specify whether President Obama would veto SOPA or PIPA.

Lanham Napier, the chief executive of the San Antonio-based web hosting company Rackspace, was one of the experts who had planned to testify at the House Oversight and Government Regulation committee hearing today. Before Smith stated his plan to take out the DNS blocking provisions, Napier discussed the harm of DNS blocking and why Texas businesses, such as Rackspace, are opposed to the SOPA and PIPA legislation.

Below is a full transcript and audio of the interview.

TT: Why is the tech community in Texas opposed to the Stop Online Piracy Act?

Napier: I think the bill as currently filed doesn’t work. Basically, it does not help us battle pirates, and we battle online pirates every day. It introduces technology remedies that create security risks for the internet, and it abolishes the due process framework that’s in place under the current law [the Digital Millennium Copyright Act].  So the bottom line there is basically the bill that’s currently filed doesn’t work. It doesn’t fix piracy, and it causes real problems.

TT: How would the bills affect American businesses, particularly Rackspace?

Napier: In lots of ways. I think a real good example is basically the technology remedy in there around DNS blocking, manipulating DNS. [It] is an activity that impacts not only Rackspace, but any company in the state of Texas that runs DNS, which is going to be lots and lots of companies. The bill that’s currently written would require that we go in and make changes to that system. That system is a fundamental lynchpin for how the internet operates. The changes ask us to manipulate the system in a way that it was never intended to operate and in the process creates some security holes in that system. That’s something that literally every company in the state of Texas that is dealing with DNS services would have to address.

TT: How would the Stop Online Piracy Act affect Rackspace's relationship with foreign customers?

Napier: If you look at the legal framework here in the States, we’ve had a number of laws that have hurt our ability to do business overseas. Whether there are certain acts, like the Patriot Act, [which] impacted our perception with international customers about the rights and powers the government has to seize data. I think this is another one, another piece of legislation potentially that could have a similar impact.

Our business is a global business. We’re headquartered here in San Antonio. We have 4,000 folks that work in the company. That’s up from 2,000 just a couple years ago when the Great Recession began. So we’re growing at a high rate, and legislation like this damages our ability to grow and chills innovation in the web. That’s why we want to try to work with members of Congress to fix this.

TT: Have you been able to communicate your concerns about to the bill to U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith or other members of Congress?

Napier: We’ve been making our views known. I have the opportunity next week to go to D.C. to participate in a hearing. [That hearing has since been postponed.]  I’m looking forward to that, because I think ultimately in our country we want to pass legislation that makes our country better. The internet is one of those areas where we’ve had a lot of growth, and a lot of innovation. I think the legislation that we pass around the internet needs to make it stronger, not weaker. I think this is a complex problem that requires a lot of thought and effort, and I look forward to being able to help.

TT: What are some of your ideas on the best ways to combat online piracy and other cyber crimes?

Napier: You’ll hear more about this going forward from us, and we’re still building our thoughts on it. I think the first idea is let’s not pass a piece of legislation that from a technology perspective won’t work. That’s idea No. 1. Idea No. 2 here is to really think through the issue more broadly about how to get after it. On this call, I’m not really prepared to talk about specific ways to get after it. My mission and purpose right now is to help our leaders understand the risks with their current path.

TT: What else do you think Texans should know about SOPA or how it will affect businesses in Texas?

Napier: Generally, I think what happens with the bill as currently written is it’s not going to do anything to battle online piracy. I think it’s going to drive up compliance costs for anybody who runs DNS systems. I think it changes the legal framework meaningfully. What we’re going to get is a bill that introduces security risks, doesn’t battle the pirates and drives up costs on Texas businesses. 

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