Could SOPA and PIPA interfere with State Dept.’s global Internet freedom agenda?

Update, Jan. 20, 12:19pm: Implicitly acknowledging concerns about its Internet anti-piracy bill raised by online protesters and the State Department, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided Friday morning to delay a vote on the Protect Intellectual Property Act. But the Nevada Democrat still supports the increasingly controversial legislation. “There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved,” he added in a statement. House leaders are also having second thoughts about the Stop Online Piracy Act, their version of the legislation.

Two Internet anti-piracy bills working their way through Congress that are heavily backed by the movie industry could have significant impacts on technology companies, a threat highlighted Wednesday by Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing and other sites that went offline for the day in protest. As a result, some reporters have characterized the standoff over the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act – SOPA and PIPA for short – as a fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

But at an event put on by The New Republic Wednesday, Alec Ross, the State Department’s senior advisor for innovation, pointed out that that this issue is bigger than California. If done wrong, anti-piracy legislation could restrict the rights of Internet users across the country – and put U.S. diplomats in a very awkward position.

“Any attempt to combat online piracy cannot have the unintended consequence of censoring legal online content,” Ross said, referring to SOPA. He suggested that some measures in that bill could be inconsistent with the State Department’s Internet advocacy.

The department’s global Internet freedom agenda was outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech nearly a year before the uprising in Tunisia. In the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions that followed the overthrow of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali – some of which were catalyzed or sustained by online communication — it has become a central tenant of the department’s so-called 21st Century Statecraft.

As Clinton explained back in January 2010, lawmakers should ensure that citizens

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