Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Internet, Endangered

Locked OutPerhaps we should have expected it given their whole Wikileaks fiasco, but the USA’s campaign to take away our Internet freedoms is continuing in earnest. As you are reading this, the Internet as we know it is in severe danger.

Take the court ruling announced last Friday, where a judge decreed the American Government has the right to access Twitter users’ private data without telling anyone about it. Note we only know of this in the first place because Twitter made a bit of a fuss; Google and Yahoo gave in to their government’s demands lying down.
Consider the implications of this court ruling. Any information you have on an American server is, in effect, at the hands of the American Government. Got web mail accounts, like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo? Got photos on the web with, say, Flickr or Picasa? Got private video clips of your baby having a bath on YouTube for the benefit of faraway relatives? Got general information on the cloud with the likes of Amazon? Are you using Apple’s new iCloud services with your iOS5 upgraded iPhone? Are you using Facebook?
The bottom line is that if you’re using the Internet you’re under the watchful eye of the American Government. I don’t have anything against the USA, but I don’t exactly welcome them to my house so they can take a look at my private stuff; them giving themselves the authority to browse my private stuff on our Internet puts them in very poor light.
The Patriot Act: ten years and counting.

An even bigger threat to the open nature of the Internet is coming from the direction of new legislation dubbed SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), which looks destined to get rushed through the motions and become effective before Christmas.
First and foremost, the issue with SOPA is the censoring of allegedly infringing websites (allegedly being the key word). I don't think more words need to be wasted here on why such censorship is dangerous; we know that already through our experience with Conroy & Co.
One of the more interesting highlight of this proposed legislation is the financial boycotting of potentially copyright infringing businesses based on allegations alone. It would work this way: A company that doesn’t like what another company is putting on the web will be able to contact financial providers (the likes of Visa, MasterCard and PayPal) and ask them to withhold finances from the allegedly infringing company. The financial provider might ask questions, but the whole point of the law is that it doesn’t have to; in effect, these institutions would likely bend down to the powers of the greater companies out there, with whom they don’t want to mess about and risk liability. Visa is not out there to protect our rights; its aim is to create value for its shareholders! The company being blamed will therefore lose its finances, most notably without anyone actually proving it was at fault in the first place.
Think for a moment just how easily such legislation can be abused by the greater powers to suppress competition as well as dissent. This is the entire point of this legislation in the first place; after all, there are ample measures to be taken today in order to address potential copyright infringements on the web, it's just that these are too hard for Hollywood and its likes.
You may think these rules won’t affect you personally. I suspect they would, if only indirectly. Yet I suspect it would affect many of us directly in ways we can't even think about yet. Take this as an example: many of us post videos to YouTube and various services, yet a subsection of the proposed SOPA legislation puts hefty penalties on streaming copyrighted materials. Think it through: you may be put to prison in the USA for posting a video of your child’s school play, a play where they happened to have copyrighted music in the background. What a great piece of legislation this is when it makes so many of us criminals!

It's hard for me to say it, but the USA’s attitude towards privacy and civil rights stinks all the way across the Pacific. What a shame the country that brought gems such as the Declaration of Independence to this world is falling apart in such a pathetic manner.


Image by Truthout.org, Creative Commons license

Added on 16/11/11: You can read more about SOPA and the dangers it poses to the Internet at Boing Boing here and the EFF here.

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