Monday, 6 February 2012

Internet Censorship: Is It Really Such A Big Deal?

There's been a great deal of fuss on the internet about the proposed laws that could severely limit our freedom of speech and expression. Google and Twitter have unilaterally decided to restrict browsing by country in order to comply with the demands of certain countries. They say it's not restricting freedom of speech, they're just making sure that content certain regimes might find offensive isn't available to view if you live in those countries. What's the big deal, then? Isn't this all about protecting us from the bad guys?

Erm, you're uninformed if you believe that only the bad guys need to worry about anything. Everyday use of the internet will be very curtailed if any of those laws are passed, and you can kiss your privacy goodbye.

Catch-all Legislation

The latest scary law to come to light is H.R. 1981. Here's the bill itself (PDF). It's about data retention and

requires that commercial Internet providers would be required to store to include customers' names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses, some committee members suggested.

By a 7-16 vote in July, the House Judiciary committee rejected an amendment that would have clarified that only IP addresses must be stored.

Even though H.R. 1981 is titled the "Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act," it would give police the power to review the companies' user logs for nearly any crime. Even Smith, during a January 2011 hearing, pointed to the problems of "illegal gambling, cigarette and prescription drug distribution, and child exploitation." Civil litigants, for instance in divorce cases, might also be able to gain access to the logs.


It's hidden under the guise of protecting kids and catching perverts but it could be extended to pretty much anything. To believe that they'd only ever use it for catching criminals is naive; Richard O'Dwyer, a UK national, is currently fighting extradition on charges related to copyright infringement for acts that aren't crimes in this country. The extradition treaty was set up to deal with terrorists. These laws can and do get used as catch-alls, is what I'm saying. That's what makes them so dangerous.

What they are and what they do

SOPA and PIPA are anti-piracy laws that go too far in defining what an internet pirate is and how to deal with them. Enforcing them would lead to surveillance and criminalisation of ordinary people. YouTube as we know it would go and we'd all be afraid to say anything in case someone accused us of copyright infringement. Websites would be shut down without due process on SUSPICION of infringement. The potential for abuse is incredible. ACTA and TPP are trade agreements conceived in secret and recently brought to public attention. ACTA has been available for about two years. TPP has been around since 2005 and was agreed between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. The idea is to tighten intellectual property provisions. This would stifle the Hell out of innovation and the use of derivative, e.g. parody, works. Bang goes your God-given right to make references to pop culture items on your lolcat pictures, is what I'm saying. They might even censor Halloween costumes unless you pay royalties. Think I'm exaggerating? Check this out. If you didn't click the link, here's the nub of it:

The story began in 1995, when Ascap approached the American Camping Association and said it wanted to charge for copyrighted music performed at the group's 2,300 camps. ''You've got to be kidding,'' said the association's executive vice president, John Miller, who quickly found a lawyer well versed in the details of Federal copyright.

The law says songwriters are entitled to royalties for copyrighted work used in ''public performance,'' which it defines as a place ''where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.'' The lawyer determined that Ascap was indeed within bounds, and that nonprofit camps, like the Girl Scouts, were not necessarily exempt from music licensing fees.

 Imagine that, but bigger, for everyone and everything.

Snoop login log

It'll be easier to police the internet if the above-mentioned bills go through and you can add royalties for your lolcats and quoted text (I can has definition of "fair use?") to your living expenses. Not cool. I appreciate the idea of copyright but there has got to be a fairer, more reasonable way to make sure that original artists and writers are paid for their work. Chasing us around like errant cows so they can milk us ain't the answer. I won't stand for it!

What you can do

Join the Internet Freedom Movement on Google Plus and get involved in signing petitions and whatever protests they are organizing, if you can. You can certainly sign petitions and lobby politicians even if you're not their constituents; it helps to pile the pressure on. I'll see you there.

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