US Prepares to Censor Internet Access While Urging Internet Freedom for the Rest of the World!
At the London Conference on Cyberspace, November 1-2, Vice President Joe Biden urged other nations to protect internet freedom of expression.
“Biden did not name countries he felt were offenders. But he criticized the efforts of some nations pursuing an "international legal instrument that would lead to exclusive government control over Internet resources, institutions and content and national barriers on the free flow of information online." (PCWorld)
Meanwhile, back in the US, Congress was preparing to pass a law granting extraordinary powers to censor the internet. The proposed law, described as “the Great Firewall of America,” has the support of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also favors Internet freedom for other countries. If the US government still had any credibility on this issue after banning access to websites posting leaked cables, the latest hypocrisy should have killed it.
Last week, Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX), John Conyers (D-MI), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Howard Berman (D-CA) introduced a House bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). A Senate version, called the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), had been introduced last May by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Charles Grassley (R-IA). The bills propose to let the federal government block public access to websites accused of violating intellectual property rights. They would also require Internet access providers, search engines and payment providers to deny services to websites upon request from rights holders.
A devil in the lack of details
The bills have been criticized for their vague language and lack of due process, making them ripe for abuses.
“Imagine a world in which any intellectual property holder can, without ever appearing before a judge or setting foot in a courtroom, shut down any website's online advertising programs and block access to credit card payments. The credit card processors and the advertising networks would be required to take quick action against the named website; only the filing of a “counter notification” by the website could get service restored.
Finally, and for good measure, Internet service providers and payment processors get the green light to simply block access to sites on their own volition—no content owner notification even needed. So long as they believe the site is “dedicated to the theft of US property,” Internet providers and payment processors can't be sued. (ArsTechnica)”
Such a law could be used to chill criticism of corporate and government policies.
“Emerging nonprofit whistleblower sites could find themselves in the jaws of SOPA if they post any documents related to corporate corruption or law breaking, if those documents contain trade secrets or are copyrightable,” warns the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “What happened to Wikileaks via voluntary censorship will now be systematized and streamlined – as long as someone, somewhere, thinks they’ve got an IP right that’s being harmed.”
Potentially, the US government also could take advantage of the law, directly or through a corporate intermediary, to silence whistleblowers and dissent. The proposed law’s provisions could, for example, be used to shut down Tor, an anonymity network used to protect whistleblowers and activists--including participants in the Occupy Wall Street protests.
“The timing could not be more exquisite. In the midst of protests emerging all around the US complaining about the power that corporations have inside our political system, big content is quite literally trying to foist its own version of the Great Firewall of China on to the American public” (Harvard Business Review)
The effects of SOPA/PIPA on internet commerce could be devastating, ultimately shutting down a wide swath of the internet, including the websites Facebook, Google, Tumblr, eBay, and Wikipedia (Harvard Business Review). In a letter to Congress, 30 technology entrepreneurs and executives warned that the legislation would freeze innovation and job creation in the technology sector--one of very few sectors in the US with continuing growth.
Some computer experts believe the legislation could undermine the stability of the Internet and make it more vulnerable to malicious attacks.
Low-income Americans who cannot afford prescription drugs at US prices could be the biggest losers if these bills become law. That’s because the legislation makes it possible to block websites that legally sell prescription dugs in Canada and other countries, typically at much lower prices.
“Protection for domain name registries, registrars, search engines, payment processors, and advertising networks from damages resulting from their voluntary action against an Internet site “dedicated to infringing activities,” where that site also “endangers the public health,” by offering controlled or non-controlled prescription medication.”
Rather than protect public health, such a law could result in low-income Americans being denied life-saving medications if profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies and their government collaborators use the law to oppose competition.
Supporters include the US Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Music Publishers' Association, the Newspaper Association of America, and the Screen Actors Guild, to name a few. But, there are potential goodies in SOPA/PIPA for just about all of the Big Money interests that exercise control over the federal government.
There’s a good deal of opposition to the bills, including 108 professors of intellectual property and Internet law who wrote a letter to Congress warning that it “may represent the biggest threat to the Internet in its history.” Opposition is bipartisan, with both conservatives and progressives condemning the blacklisting scheme--and some aren’t mincing words.
PROTECT IP is a lunatic proposal, penned by a dinosauric industry concerned solely with the preservation of its own profits. It will do nothing to curb piracy while at the same time eroding fundamental freedoms of the internet. (TechCrunch)
Back at the Cyberspace Conference where the Mr. Biden and his British counterparts spoke about the importance of free speech, journalists were forced to view the proceedings from a “media pen” equipped with television screens, being forbidden from mingling with conference attendees, who included defense contractors.
Arms companies such as Lockheed Martin, Detica (part of BAE Systems), Raytheon, Thales, QinetiQ, Serco and Northrop Grumman attended in force. They are re-branding themselves as part of what might be called the cyber-industrial complex. (The Economist).
And so, the “crisis” used to justify draconian rights abuses changes, but the names of the perpetrators remain pretty much the same.
Linda Lewis is a policy analyst with degrees in emergency management and geosciences. Her experience includes 13 years as a policy analyst and planner for the U.S. government. During that time, she brought attention to serious deficiencies in government preparedness prior to the disasters that confirmed her analyses. Those included emergency communications (9/11 terrorist attacks), federal assistance (hurricane Katrina) and decision making (Columbia shuttle disaster).
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