Is internet censorship and de-anonymization an attack on our freedom of speech?
The Internet is the newest and most cutting edge technological medium to date. Currently, any person is allowed to express any opinion online anonymously no matter how controversial it may be with no chance of it having any effect on their personal lives. This fact is what makes the internet so great but it opens up a vast field of unknown possibilities which could potentially make this medium a very dangerous tool. A critical point to recognize here is that while certain countries may censor all forms of media in one way or another, it is still possible for citizens of that country to access information from across the world online, effectively bypassing their government’s laws.
The issue that governments have with censoring the internet is that it is almost entirely privately owned so they must rely on methods such as content filtering or site blocking. To date, these attempts have been like trying to stay dry in the rain using a net; a phenomenal amount of sites leak through undetected. One reason for this is the ease of starting up a website. If a person knows what they are doing, it is possible to have content with full navigation online within a day. A research study which supports this was conducted in 2007 and published in 2009 by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. It stated that: "We are confident that any censorship circumvention tool developers will for the most part keep ahead of the governments' blocking efforts", but also that "we believe that less than two percent of all filtered Internet users use circumvention tools" (Zuckerman, 2007) A few cases where internet censorship is actually successful can be seen in parts of China, North Korea, and Cuba. The reason for this success is that the government has supreme control over all internet connected computers. When an act which is trying to be passed within the United States has censorship traits in common with that of regions such as China and North Korea, it raises a red flag as far as personal rights go.
The acts which are currently being referred to are “SOPA” (Stop Internet Privacy Act) and “PROTECT IP” (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011). The goals of these acts are very extensive attempts to insure that the profits related to these types of content go purely to the innovators of the content. The issue here is that these acts would place our freedom of speech within the hands of the government, in good faith that they will not pervert these acts to essentially censor the internet. Supporters of this act include the powerful minority of the United States: the major businesses, industry groups, corporations, and copyright and trademark owners. Although this act would guarantee the rich get their full profits, it would put a major freeze on startup companies and innovation. For example, under the PROTECT IP act, singing a copyrighted song and posting it on youtube.com would be a case of copyright infringement which could land the offender with up to a five year jail sentence. Sites with a high margin of unfiltered content being added would not last a day under this act. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter would stand the risk of being held accountable for all of their users’ posts. With user bases in the hundreds of millions this content would be impossible to regulate and eludes at social media networks being “out of control” and unable to follow any sort of restricting policies, effectively making it worthy of being blacklisted. A very interesting quote by Business Insider employee Fred Wilson on this subject is, "If we need to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, let's do it with a negotiation between the interested parties, not with a bill written by the content industry's lobbyists and jammed through congress on a fast track. Companies...
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