Internet censorship: Government vs. Our Privacy and the Freedom of the Press
Imagine a world where anyone who actively shares media content on the internet is a government target. The US government pushes for bills to censor “infringing” material and look into your own privacy. Government censors wanted to push forward acts like SOPA that would give them any reason to shut down entire sites like Facebook or YouTube, simply because it was infringing on a corporations intellectual work, or possibly thought of as a threat to the government’s reputation. The government allows corporations to come down and charge you personally with theft or illegal use of copyrighted material, but the DMCA allows you to also protect yourself under a doctrine of “Fair Use”. The ability to be able to have such jurisdiction came from the plan of the Stop Online Piracy Act and it would have stomped out the DMCA if not for the rallying of internet users nationwide boycotting SOPA. The nightmare of a corporation coming down on us became a reality for Stephanie Lenz for a short video of her child dancing to a popular Prince song that Prince’s record corporation got wind of.
In 2007 Stephanie Lenz posted a twenty second video of her child dancing to “Let’s go Crazy” by Prince. Prince’s record company, Universal Music Corporation, sent a take down notice to YouTube saying it broke copy right laws protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). “Under federal copyright law a mere allegation of copyright infringement can result in the removal of content from the Internet”. YouTube wanting to steer clear of a disaster took the video down immediately. Lenz fought back in court stating that she used the video under “fair use” exception to copyright. The fair use exception is a doctrine that allows limited use of the copy righted material without needing permission from the rights holder. That seems pretty fair. It gives a balance between when something is deemed illegal and needs to be censored, and when it is fair to use.
Internet censorship is the control or suppression of what can be accessed, published or viewed on the internet. That nation’s government is usually who controls the flow of information, but private corporations at the behest of the government can also have a say. Censorship at its core is a means by a government to control the information available to the public and is commonly practiced in countries with very strict regimes or dictators but is also alive in the United States as well. The kind of content could be accessed on the internet could be anything from written works and news articles, to videos of popular television shows, work from cinema and music. Censoring the internet would be a serious damage of not only culture, but how we communicate on a daily basis today and we all know that by allowing SOPA or any bill that impairs our right of freedom of speech and press to pass would have change the way we communicate on the internet forever.
The act known as Stop Online Piracy was an act brought to congress back in 2010. The bill proposed that censors could follow up with calling out anyone who posted or shared copyrighted content to the domain’s administrator. If the site did not comply, the site would get a ban notice and advertisers and other sources of income for the site were forbidden to participate. Even more is that the law could be taken directly to the offender for fines in damages and potential prison time. SOPA supports say they wants to achieve the elimination of piracy but yet it has overwhelming potential for becoming a tool for over-aggressive censorship and an even tighter grip around the first amendment’s throat.
While SOPA was believed to have great potential to be an important tool for protecting the copy-rights of intellectual works, SOPA posed an even greater danger to everyone by allowing the government to attack whatever and whomever they wanted under what they perceived as threats to the people. SOPA actually had the ability not only to stop people from stealing from the internet, it had the ability to take down anything that it thought was infringing on any intellectual work or damaging to the United States government’s reputation, but it was under the guise that it was deemed a danger to the public and need to be censored. This is especially true with any kind of news that could damage the reputation of the U.S. government or be considered “private material” by them.
In 2006, the doors of government privacy were blown wide open by a group of people who created the non-profit organization known as Wiki-leaks. Wiki-leaks is an organization that champions the idea of completely free speech. Free to the point where you can find a great deal of information about crimes and collateral murders our government has been committing since Bush was in office. Wiki-leaks states on their main page:
“Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organizations. A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media plays a vital role in achieving these goals. We are part of that media.”
Wiki-leaks claims that they are on our side and the proof of their claim is still in the headlines today. Wiki-leaks have been under intense scrutiny by the United States government because of stories involving Guantanamo, Drone strikes and collateral murders, and shady corporations. Wiki-leaks is the ideal place to read news exactly as it is which is a perfect example as to how the news should really be. SOPA wanted to stop American internet servers from being able to access such news because all of the news Wiki-leaks has released has been refuted by the American Government. The over defensive legal state of the government sends a message of guilt that should be taken account of.
America’s government, after being exposed to hide these stories of murder and torture, started to react back by pushing harder for more bills similar to SOPA to pass in congress. In other countries actions are taken to defuse the civil unrest but on a much more serious scale. The Arab Spring was a massive movement of revolution and civil war in the Middle East. Technology, mainly, social media became an invaluable tool in allowing protesters to secretly arrange meetings for protests. They had to do this in code because anything that went against that countries government was immediately censored out from all sources of information, not just the internet. In fact, because the government was having such a hard time controlling the people, they shut down the internet for a short duration and that really cause a bigger problem. The method in which the government took control of its people was a poor choice because instead of working on a solution, they just shut down the voice of the people. Such an event on American soil would cause serious turmoil and damage to a multitude businesses and social networking companies such as Facebook, YouTube and Google.
Now imagine a world only a couple years into the future. China does a full cyber strike on American internet servers and the government in a preemptive returning strike, shuts down all web domains and hands over any and all stored information you have on the internet.
“CISPA would allow for voluntary information sharing between private companies and the government in the event of a cyber-attack. If the government detects a cyber-attack that might take down Facebook or Google, for example, they could notify those companies. At the same time, Facebook or Google could inform the feds if they notice unusual activity on their networks that might suggest a cyber-attack… According to the EFF, “CISPA is written broadly enough to permit your communications service providers to share your emails and text messages with the government, or your cloud storage company could share your stored files.”
This is the reality we all potentially face if this bill passes in Congress. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing Protection act passed in the House of Representatives the day of the Boston Bombings last week. This bill is What SOPA has more or less become today. CISPA is said to be a protection of American companies from cyber-attacks from other countries, but again we see another bill that allows the government to peer into anyone’s privacy under the assumption of any kind of illegal or shady activity. What’s even better is that social network titan Facebook who stood in opposition of SOPA, was actually originally for this bill but has since stood back when the opposition to CISPA came to the fore front.
Online piracy and cyber-attacks should be addressed and fixed but acts such as SOPA and CISPA give the government a degree of power that is reminiscent of the Patriot Act. An act that basically violated millions of American civilians’ privacy by allowing the United States government to wiretap anyone’s phones under an assumption they were considered dangerous, and some were just random screenings. Even more importantly SOPA seems to be an override of a system of copyright protection that already exists. It’s trading an act of protection to work to act that has serious aggressive potential. There have been a variety of cases where the DMCA has protected people under fair use conditions such as Lenz vs. Universal Music Corp. SOPA wants to challenge the way the DMCA works by over aggressively monitoring and censoring anything that could be deemed copy right infringement. That means if we were to share a video over Facebook that involved a song or a scene from a movie, not only could you potentially be persecuted by the fullest extent of the law, Facebook itself could be severely wounded or even shut down if they refused to take down the infringing material. The infringing individuals would have to pay obscene fines and even face potential jail time.
Piracy is the unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted material and sharing copyrighted material is not stealing, therefore, individuals sharing work to social networking over the internet should not be a crime. In fact, acts like SOPA would cause far more court cases and a land slide of legal issues because there are instances that would exist that could not have the line drawn one way or another. If the government thinks it needs to tighten its grip on the internet because of pirated music and shady “cyber-attacks”, we can only tremble to imagine what else they’ll start being pro-active to in the near future. Instead of having SOPA limiting who can use what material, more services like Spotify and Netflix would help seriously slow if not cure the massive amounts of internet piracy that we see on a daily basis. Both of the previously mentioned services allow you to watch thousands of movies and television shows for only ten or eight dollars a month respectively. In fact, Spotify offers a completely free way to listen to damn near anything we could think of. Artists get money from the advertisements that come up on Spotify, and Spotify premium which is a phenomenal idea because then everyone is satisfied. With programs like this becoming more popular by the hour, SOPA becomes more obsolete as a means of stopping piracy and more of a government monitoring tool that breaches privacy of everyday people.
Government control over internet censorship has been a serious topic of debate that keeps emerging from the House of Representatives, each time in a different form but more recently as CISPA. The act known as SOPA is an attempt to stop over-seas piracy of copyrighted material via the internet. The act CISPA stops a believed cyber-attack that could be staged in the United States for all we know. Despite being portrayed as a protection of artistic works, people saw it more for its policies to practically pry into everything, and have any kind of shared material that may be considered infringing, condemn the user as a criminal. That could be anyone from any given point when anything that was copyrighted was shared between us and another. Those in favor of internet censorship have a variety of reasons for why they are in favor, but most reasons that are wrong tend to come from those who are inexperienced with the internet or lobbied legislators:
- “The reason that the internet may be censored is to protect social norms. In some cases this type of censorship gets widespread support like laws against child pornography or hate speech.” While the censorship of topics such as child pornography and hate crimes is entirely understandable, it does not stop the fact that it exists on the web, and it doesn’t make the problem go away. What does the author mean by social norms? That is a rather vague claim that covers a lot of cultures. In fact hate speech appears still on television and in the paper and on the radio! Censorship, while good for protecting the innocent young or misguided internet traveler, does not actually solve the problem but more so sweeps it under the rug in a never ending process of uploading to censoring.
- “It may be easier to trace a person who uses television as a medium to spread hatred or porn, but it is very difficult to do so on the Internet with no boundaries whatsoever. The fact that the chances of being traced are very rare makes people resort to various criminal activities, right from sexual exploitation of children to running drug cartels from a particular part of the world, on the Internet.” Internet censorship can block anything that it deems damaging to the public, but being traced is a very common practice for FBI agents. In fact agents recently busted the admins of Mega-Upload, a web domain set up in Sweden that was pirating thousands of copyrighted works for years. It is actually very easy to trace people with the right technology that surely the U.S. government has.
- The entire idea of SOPA being a weapon in an act for defense of creative works is nothing more than a guise for the American Government to have more of a grip over the internet and sensitive information from leaking to the public. Censorship what they claim to be a tool to protect the social norm of the American people, but instead of protecting us, they planned to cripple us at the heart of our social and commercial hub.
- In China, the great firewall makes it very difficult for creative works and Chinese programmers who gather to create and discuss projects had their site “GitHib” shut down. “Lee says not being able to access the latest information and exchange ideas globally, thanks to censorship, will ultimately represent a “huge loss” to homegrown entrepreneurs.” This is actually an example of how censorship is potentially more a detriment than a method of protection.
The government says that they planned to stop piracy with SOPA; they plan to use CISPA to stop “cyber-attacks” from other countries, and this has been a reoccurring theme that shown up in other countries that not only cripple production and creativity but suffocate the press and only tell the masses what they want them to know. Wiki-leaks broke the norm of the American government feeding us what only they wanted us to hear for real stories exactly as they happened. Despite what events may unfold in the coming months with CISPA, we are first and foremost American citizens and deserve our right to speech and right for untainted press. Censorship with a cause is one thing, but when under a guise that is considered censorship; it’s really to violate the privacy of millions of Americans. The government needs to learn to fear its people, not the other way around.
Albanesius, Chloe. “What is CISPA, and Why Should You Care?” PCmag.com. 4/22/13. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2417993,00.asp
Pepitone, Julianne. “SOPA Explained “What it is and why it matters.” Money.cnn.com. 1/20/12. “SOPA explained”
Naik, Abhijit. “Internet Censorship Pros and Cons.” Buzzle. 11/25/2010. http://www.buzzle.com/articles/internet-censorship-pros-and-cons.html
Bao, Beibei. “How Internet Censorship is curbing Innovation in China.” TheAtlantic.com. 4/22/13. http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/04/how-internet-censorship-is-curbing-innovation-in-china/275188/