Looking Beyond SOPA: Future threats to Internet Freedom.

April 3rd, 2013 by

internet freedom

We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove 14 search results for linking to sites that criticize the police and claim individuals were involved in obscuring crimes. We did not remove content in response to this request.” ~ Google UK Transparency Report.

Just because legislation related to the Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) appears stillborn in the American legislative system does not mean the war is over. In fact, one could argue that if Wikipedia (and others) had not slung massive ‘Stop SOPA’ banners over their website home pages during the lead-up period to voting on the bill, the Internet could today be a more restrictive platform for applications, data, content and yes, your personal freedom, especially in the UK.

While these short-term tactics by leading tech players help raise awareness in the general public, all website owners and infrastructural providers need to remain vigilant, considering the Google quote above which confirms the massive pressure many technology companies are under to block content or disclose information about the clients who use their services or products in some way.

“The number of content removal requests we received increased by 98% compared to the previous reporting period,” said Google.

The Google Transparency report in particular, demonstrates how many of its applications and products are under constant pressure from the agencies. These include YouTube, Web Search, Blogger and even Google Adwords. These last four Google products alone have generated at least 9 court orders since 2010, although Google has not yet provided data on 2013 incidents.

Google considers the issue so serious it launched an online transparency report to monitor censorship levels and any efforts that look likely to reproduce SOPA legislation in some shape or manner.

In late 2012, Vince Cerf, regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Internet reported on the Google Transparency site that:

“A closed-door meeting of the world’s governments [was] taking place in Dubai, and regulation of the Internet is on the agenda. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is convening a conference from December 3-14 to revise a decades-old treaty, in which only governments have a vote. Some proposals could allow governments to justify the censorship of legitimate speech, or even cut off Internet access in their countries.”

These developments and similar ones prompted Cerf and Google to promote a pledge to support a free and open Internet built upon the mantra that “Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future. The billions of people around the globe who use the Internet should have a voice.”

As of early January 2013, the world governmental meeting in Dubai resulted in 89 countries signing the ITU treaty, while 55 countries refused to do so, at least until they could review the finer details of the proposal.

There is thus a tipping point at an international level towards censorship, which while attempting to limit piracy ultimately leads to the decay of personal freedoms that exist on the Internet today.

For instance, The Varsity reports that international governments have been inspired by the American legislative attempts and protocols on piracy. India is one example, where legislation which owes much to SOPA is being worked on in the name of protecting its billion-dollar film industry.

It also states the UK is pursuing a more extreme three strikes policy, based on the American ‘Six Strikes Your Out’ Copyright Alert System championed by AT&T and Time Warner, which will come into effect by 2014.

While piracy is an issue and does lead to lost revenue for major players in the film and music industries, many believe these companies end up recouping their losses through efforts such as merchandising and DVD sales. Questions must be asked then about whether the losses of private companies can outweigh the freedoms currently enjoyed by all people who access the Internet.

Author Bio: Jason Stevens from jason-stevens.com / Freelance web developer, tech writer and follower of cloud computing trends. Follow him on Twitter: @_jason_stevens_.

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