GREENVILLE, SC, January 19, 2012 — The Internet is a bastion of freedom in the modern world, allowing individuals to spread their ideas to a growing global audience. Previous communication systems have been established, controlled, and monitored by authoritarian or inefficient governments. The Internet, however, has come to symbolize freedom.
The Internet was different. It was a marketplace of ideas open to everyone. One was free to use the Internet how they pleased. An individual receives no preferential treatment for their socio-economic status and political connections. Individuals are in charge of what they share, and what websites they use or create. It has been a blank slate with few restrictions.
The ingenuity of humans has been brought to the web, relatively untainted by government involvement and restrictions. Many websites have grown into empires that compete shamelessly for relevant content, users and traffic. Other websites have become outdated and replaced by new and innovative online technology.
The Internet has never stopped increasing value for the consumer. When the economy came to a halt, the free market of the Internet only increased productivity and job creation. The Internet has allowed millions of entrepreneurs and small businesses to flourish through a new form of communication and multiple online marketplaces. It has also allowed private individuals to sell items on websites like eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist.
Not restricted to an elite, ruling class, social networks like MySpace and Facebook are open to everyone. The Internet is truly the triumph of The People.
This great expansion of technology in recent years has caused governments to try to harness and curtail the power of the Internet. Some regimes like China’s have restricted Internet usage and continually try to keep their people in the dark, not allowing them to see the free market of ideas. The web has been used to spark protests and was an influential factor in the Arab Spring, where millions used it as a tool to overthrow their cruel dictators.
For this reason, restrictive, non-Democratic, and non-Capitalistic governments fear the Internet: It has become a check on governmental power. In America, however, The People rule and govern themselves via the US Constitution. In the past, our government has never seriously restricted Internet access, except for criminals.
In a changing world, laws or judicial precedent must be created to deal with new paradigms. The Internet was no different. Laws have been created and updated which enable criminals like hackers, thieves of intellectual property, and distributors of child pornography to be prosecuted. Laws have also been enacted which allow websites to be shut down for illegal activities. For example, the Federal Trade Commission won a lawsuit against the scam freecreditreport.com and took control of the website. The FTC has also shut down fake news websites, and websites which offer products violating patent and copyright laws.
Recently, however, the federal government has been playing with a dangerous idea: DNS blocking. This is the same method of censorship used by China, Syria, and Iran, to keep outside information from their people.
This legislation goes too far with ambiguous wording that would allow websites to be sued for containing links to websites with illegal content, even if users posted those links. For instance, links to illegal sites, copyrighted photos, videos, or music posted by users on Facebook could cause lawsuits against Facebook. This is a tremendous liability for anyone who owns or administrates a website. It has the technology industry in an uproar. Another huge criticism of the legislation is that it doesn’t accomplish anything good! Instead of going to a website’s DNS name (e.g. watchfreemovieshereforfree.com), dedicated pirates would still go to its corresponding ip address (e.g. 126.96.36.199 ) and get the same illegal content without restriction.
The Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) were designed specifically to protect the interests of the US Entertainment industry. This is the same industry, headed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) that shut down an entire town’s municipal Wi-Fi network because of allegations that one person was caught downloading a movie illegally, and the same industry that sued companies over the introduction of the VHS player.
The technology industry is firmly against these Congressional measures. Companies like Google, Youtube, Yahoo!, Facebook, the Mozilla Corporation, eBay, Twitter, AOL, TechCrunch, Wikipedia, Reddit, Zynga, Tumblr, and LinkedIn have come out in firm opposition to this legislation. Not only the technology industry (those who built the Internet), but also the vast majority of Internet users (those who know how to use the Internet) stand united against PIPA and SOPA. Google’s recent petition against them collected over 4.5 Million signatures in less than a day.
The piracy of copyrighted material is not to be promoted. This legislation, however, would go much farther than protect that material. It would allow DNS names to be shutdown unjustifiably in order to censor the Internet. Possibly the most contentious part is that this could happen at the whim of bureaucrats without a court order.
Many US Congressmen don’t even understand the ramifications of this legislation because they don’t understand how the Internet works. In fact, the author of SOPA, Congressman Lamar Smith, even used copyrighted images on his own website illegally!
Blocking domain names because of Piracy and suing companies because of user-generated content is as absurd as the US Government being able to shut down Internet users’ access to email because they receive too many spam messages, or being able to sue Toyota anytime a Toyota driver does something illegal.
Internet users don’t trust the government to regulate the Internet because they inherently distrust government and know that government will abuse this power. There seems to be an inconsistency, however, as many of these people still trust government to regulate the food they eat, the drugs they take, the healthcare or healthcare insurance they get, and the education loans they use.
Why do the American people still trust government involvement in anything?
John Paul Cassil studies Management/Entrepreneurship and Political Science at Clemson University. A former U.S. House of Representatives Page, Cassil has since worked on conservative campaigns and in Congress for Congresswoman Foxx.
Cassil is the Managing Editor of the Tiger Town Observer, Clemson’s Conservative Journal of News and Opinion. He regularly speaks about activism at national conservative conferences.
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