Yes, we know that SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) was essentially defeated after a number of websites like Wikipedia and Reddit went “black” to protest the Internet-censoring legislation. But anyone who knows anything about politics will also realize that just because SOPA’s author, Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, recently postponed his plans to push the bill through Congress doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet.
In short, the freedom of the Internet is too danged important to think that all is well in the domain of Internet censorship.
So how can I convince you, oh readers of Clickfire, that it’s important that we remain vigilant? Let’s take a brief look at what a grim future SOPA, PIPA, and similarly-constraining Internet regulations could mean, both in reality and in theory.
The Future of SOPA, PIPA, and Other Legislation
The officially-listed purpose of the SOPA legislation reads as follows:
To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.
Two words: ha and ha. The true thinking behind SOPA was so transparent that conservatives and liberals alike united against Internet censorship on January 20th, 2012; both political factions recognized that in order to “promote prosperity, creativity…and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property,” the United States Congress would essentially need to grant itself new regulatory powers.
Common sense recognizes that something’s not quite right when big corporations and organizations like the RIAA are given the power of government to enforce their intellectual property in the way they see fit. Not only is it unfair, it’s downright un-American.
That’s not to say that intellectual property doesn’t exist, or that protecting it should not be a priority. But we should all be – and have been – extremely wary of when the government gives itself new powers for any purpose.
After the massive demonstrations against the policies took place, SOPA and PIPA lost momentum. But a new threat has emerged from the legislative mind of Lamar Smith, and this time it’s coming under the guise – of all things – of “protecting children from Internet pornographers.”
Once again, it’s hard to disagree with the central promise. We agree with SOPA that intellectual property rights should be protect. We agree with the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 that children should be, well, protected from Internet pornographers.
We just hate the way Lamar Smith suggests the government should go about “protecting” all of us.
As Wikipedia reports regarding PCIPA:
Section 4 would require providers to retain a log of customer IP addresses, linked to “corresponding customer or subscriber information” listed in subsection (c)(2) of 18 USC 2703, for at least a year. This includes, but is not limited to forcing Internet service providers to keep track of and retain their customers’ information — including their name, address, phone number, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.
Surely there’s a better way to protect children from Internet pornographers than to force Internet providers to essentially work as another arm of the CIA.
The Future of the Internet
I am cynical about the future of the Internet – but it has little to do with the Internet. The Internet is doing well; it’s prosperous, thriving, and free. The fact that it has some problems is only indicative of human nature – human beings in general have problems.
However, my central premise is that regulating the Internet under the guise of fixing its darker problems won’t only not fix those problems (really, how can you control that many people? And besides, laws against theft and child pornography are already on the books), but it will introduce new problems.
Consider how our privacy is already an issue with the Internet. In many cases, this is a matter of our own permission – we agree to give away some of our privacy in exchange for using Facebook. It’s not a great thing, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to agree to those terms if we want.
In other cases, our privacy can be taken from us. Sure, it’s taken by hackers, spammers, and other scummy webmasters who have nothing better to do with their time. But when our own government is depriving us of our basic privacy because they assume the worst about us and censor us without due process, it’s time to worry.
So what might a future Internet look like? If you ask me, it will likely look very much the same – at least for now. Between some web sites going offshore to ensure that they can avoid government shutdowns and protests like we saw earlier this year, it’s apparent that people are willing to fight for their freedoms. And that’s a good thing.
But a potential problem comes when we don’t remain vigilant. When we passively accept the whims of the government because we’ve grown tired of fighting the constant debates, the constant legislation, the constant wearing down of our rights. One day, the Internet may be a heavily-regulated shell of what it once was, and innovators and entrepreneurs will be forced to find some other way to interact freely with other people to generate prosperity for themselves and their families.
If the government can shut down whichever site it likes without due process, we live in very scary times indeed. In the present world, governments like China already heavily censor the flow of information and commerce simply by extending their heavy hand over markets in which they don’t belong.
Is that what we want for the United States? For all our innovation – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Silicon Valley, and every App that’s come along in the past few years – to become a relic of what we once were?
It’s entirely possible. Restricting peoples’ freedoms means also restricting their freedom to succeed, to prosper, and to profit. We need that in a tough economy. We need to give people the freedom to do well on their own, to create, to innovate. It’s not enough to say that the government should regulate more simply because there are problems that exist.
What do you think?