Big Brother Increases Internet Censorship and Regulation

We feared it would happen. We knew, with their lust for control, the federal government would eventually extend their reach upon the frontier of the internet. Though the federal government has always had some control over the internet, it’s been extremely limited. By and large, government intervention in regards to the internet has been minimal.

I believe that what makes the internet so incredible is the fact that it is unregulated, it is uncensored, and that the abundance and freedom of information adds tremendous value to our society. On the web, anyone can share their opinion or learn about anything they want without fear of punishment.

Apparently, that era is coming to an end.

Over the past few months, there have been a string of new government regulations and unjust violations that trouble me. A few of these actions involve the internet. Though most of these may appear only minor, they have some very strong implications. When reading this post, keep in mind that usually when the government gets involved in passing laws and establishing regulations, the laws are often abused or have unintended consequences. Domain seizures and censorship may just be the beginning.

Recently, the U.S. DOJ (Department of Justice) and ICE  (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) seized 82 domain names, allegedly in an attempt to cut down on the selling of counterfeit goods and distributing copyrighted materials, in what they called Operation in Our Sites v 2.0.

“The sale of counterfeit U.S. brands on the Internet steals the creative work of others, costs our economy jobs and revenue and can threaten the health and safety of American consumers,” said ICE Director John Morton. “The protection of intellectual property is a top priority for Homeland Security Investigations and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. We are dedicated to protecting the jobs, the income and the tax revenue that disappear when counterfeit goods are trafficked.”

Perhaps preventing the sale of counterfeit goods and stopping copyright infringement is a good thing. But every U.S. citizen should have a problem with this. Should the ICE Homeland Security Investigation division make copyright protection a priority, when when they are also supposed to protect the United States against terrorist and other criminal organizations who threaten our safety and national security? Sounds like their priorities are in the wrong place. More importantly, should a federal government agency be able to seize domain names to fight crime? Apparently law officials had proper warrants, but it seems to me a website shouldn’t be shut down until it is proven to be illegal in the court of law.  Here is a list of domain names taken, and here is the notice posted on seized websites. The seizure of one domain name, Torrent-Finder, is particularly troubling. Not only was their no notice from law enforcement prior to the seizures, but the website hosted no illegal content, it only linked to it. What happened to due process? Due process is supposed to protect individuals from the state. In our country, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but really you’re viewed as guilty until proven innocent. If the government intends to deprive you of property, one should be entitled to notice and judgment within court from a nonbaised judge or jury.

On a more significant note, there is currently a bill in Congress, the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA) which would call for internet censorship. The bill would create a blacklist of censored domain names. It passed the subcommittee with a unanimous vote, and it awaiting a full Senate vote. The primary purpose of this pill would be to stop copyright infringement websites, such as Rapidshare or ThePirateBay. The problem with this bill is that it allows the Attorney General to censor a website without a warrant or trial. This is an extreme burst of power to the government. Other countries such as China already has similar legislation, allowing them to block any website the disagree with.

Perhaps the best example is the “tank man” in Tiananmen Square:

Censored in China

The scary part is that while this event is extremely famous worldwide, within China, where the event took place, it is virtually unknown. The Chinese government has blocked the images through internet censorship.

The internet blacklist in the United States may start by censoring illegal websites that infringe on copyright, but the government would have the power to censor just about anything – even websites promoting ideas the government is not fond of. It is an extremely slippery slope, and this tyrannical path would perhaps become inevitable. Think about it; the power of censorship could be incredible. Within years, America could have a blacklist reminiscent of “the Great Firewall of China.”

If this bill were to pass, it would be a tremendous blow to free speech. Please consider signing this petition if you’re against this bill. Can we really afford to give up this degree of freedom of speech and information?

Another issue not really in the public eye is the FTC’s endorsement of “do not track” in online marketing. The FTC issued a report that proposed a framework that supposedly attempts to protect the interest of consumers against electronic media that relies on information collected from consumers. In theory, this method to prevent tracking would allow consumers to choose whether to allow data collection of browsing, searching, and similar online activities. Fortunately, this is only a policy recommendation and not law. The Do-Not-Track option would allow consumers to opt out of third-party tracking, which primarily results in targeted advertisements.

Direct Marketing News had this to say: “The FTC specifically suggests the Do-Not-Track mechanism take the form of an add-on to the browser, similar to a cookie. Consumers ultimately would be able to check a box that would transmit their preference to opt out of tracking to websites as they surf the Web. Companies would be held accountable for failing to honor the option the consumer chooses. The FTC said it hopes this will prevent consumers from the need to opt out on a company-by-company or industry-by-industry basis.”

I believe that consumers should be informed when their data is collected; however, prohibiting tracking is a step in the wrong direction. One of the primary uses of online data collection from consumers is used to provide consumers with relevant, targeted advertisements. As the internet has grow, ads have grown less intrusive and more integrated. Targeted advertisements are actually a good thing for consumers, as it displays relevant information that they may legitimately be interested in. Targeted advertisements are good for everyone – the consumer, the seller, and the middlemen hosting the promotions. It’s almost as if the FTC has nothing better to do, so they decide to make some arbitrary rules that do harm rather than good.

Another important internet issue, one that needs it’s own post, is the current WikiLeaks situation and Operation Payback (ddos attacks on Mastercard, Visa, and Paypal).

Here are some of the most notable points in the below video by Nicco Mele. “I absolutely think this is something we should admire. They’re standing up for political values they believe in. I’d argue it’s the only value the internet may have….I do think there was an act of political paranoia where paypal will let you give money to the KKK but not to a platform for whistleblowers?… I tend to think of the internet as a way for people to interact with each other to bypass institutions.”

With that, I’ll leave you with this video to ponder (at least until it gets taken down – again):

Take Care & Live Free

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