US PIPA and SOPA Acts and the Internet Blackout

Written for SilenceBreakers

The internet, what the founder of the World Wide Web (WWW) – Sir Tim Berners-Lee – said is a human right, is locked in a battle with the US Congress as Senate debate the Protect Intellectual Property Act and the House of Representatives consult over the Stop Online Piracy Act. The Acts represent an attack on internet freedom. The US is a country that prides itself on democracy and human rights, but has a history of hypocrisy as they themselves battle with their own democratic deficit. If these Acts were to pass, this would have major implications for the internet as we know it, especially given the Acts are unclear in terms of their effect upon non-US sites. For instance, already “the domain of a Spanish site, rojadirecta.org, was seized in early 2011 by U.s authorities without adequate due process, notification to the site’s owners, or an option to defend themselves, despite having been declared legal by two Spanish courts”. This conflicts and arguably undermines the sovereignty of other countries’ legal decisions.

It was only within this last week that I addressed the important question of democracy and net neutrality. Essentially, an anti-net neutrality stance is undemocratic given the opportunity this provides for corporate dominance. Today has seen an online strike, as well known sites such as Wikipedia and WordPress (and even Marxist Internet Archive) protested through shutting down their services today in opposition to the two Acts. However, the House of Representatives date of voting is up in the air, with some arguing that the Act is pretty much dead until next Congress:

We celebrated Monday when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor effectively signalled the death of SOPA, the Stopping Online Piracy Act. Cantor said the Internet censorship bill would not see a vote until there was consensus on the matter. As long as Darrell Issa, Justin Amash, and Jason Chaffetz are on the case there will be no consensus on sweeping Internet censorship, so Cantor’s position basically kills SOPA this Congress.

The Senate are expected to vote on their Act by the 24th of January, hence this impressive letter by a host of human rights organisations against the Protect Intellectual Property Act. Democracy includes the right to access information and the right to respect freedom of speech – both are under threat from these Acts.

Talking about democracy and corporate dominance, Rupert Murdoch blew up at the sign of an acceptance from Obama that the critiques of these Acts have a point. Murdoch also criticised Google. However, Google haven’t been perfect themselves when it comes to net neutrality. I quote from the Net Neutrality campaign of SilenceBreakers:

Google (and Verizon)- Whilst proclaiming to be an advocate of Net Neutrality, Google have been roundly criticised by Net Neutrality campaigners for their pact with Verizon. Google and Verizon’s ‘deal’ was met by Net Neutrality protests, with a petition signed by around 300,000 people demanding Google to remember the importance of Net Neutrality given Google’s own benefits from a free accessible internet and its pledge; “Don’t Be Evil.” Amongst those critical of Google’s plans are eBay, Amazon, Skype and Facebook, specifically as the plan creates a two tier system where Net Neutrality’s principles are only applied to fixed line networks, with wireless mobile networks left alone for ‘innovation’ purposes. It is no surprise that Verizon provides wireless networks that can go on Google’s Android phones. In fact, the Huffington Post argues that “the proposal is one massive loophole that sets the stage for the corporate takeover of the Internet.” Whilst the pact was concentrating on U.S. provision, such ideas and deals can have an impact upon the internet provision in other countries, especially given the States’ hegemony around the world. Google even snubbed the first Net Neutrality debate within the UK, calling it biased because of the funders – AT&T – being accused of being antithetical to discussing Net Neutrality – Net Neutrality, as illustrated by this event, is (wrongly) largely seen as a U.S.-centred debate. Furthermore, for all Google’s talk of Net Neutrality, they are being sued by a French search engine, 1plusV, on claims that they buried 1plusV’s search results, costing the engine a lot of money.

Twitter’s response to today’s blackout was incredibly poor, trivialising the importance of the blackout claiming:

Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.

It’s not a single-issue to do with one nation, as they should know as supporters of net neutrality – what happens in countries such as the US, which are apparent advocates of democracy and freedom of speech, matters for the rest of us. As already discussed, the Acts would have implications on the legal status of sites from one country to the next. Net neutrality is a global concern, the internet is a global phenomenon, and Twitter should not be so nonchalant about it. Rather, the reasons for why Twitter’s best approach would not have been shutting down for the day should have been emphasised. Twitter could have focused on promoting tweets regarding the blackout, the importance of net neutrality and freedom of speech, rather than seemingly attacking those taking part.

Twitter is an important dissemination of information, switching it down would have been more detrimental than helpful when it comes to spreading the word about the day and the campaign. However, Twitter’s response should have been more constructive, as net neutrality advocates. Maybe they are watching their mouth, given that one of their latest high profile additions, Rupert Murdoch, is busy laying into net neutrality advocates through his Twitter account! Without net neutrality, Twitter would find it hard to exist. Twitter enhances and ensures democratic tendencies. It helped the Arab Spring, it wasn’t the cause of the uprisings, but it assisted with making sure people knew what was happening. It gave people hope, and an alternative channel to promote the truth.

Further on the question of whether this is a ‘single-issue’ for nation states, Spain have just passed anti-interent frreedom laws that have received very little coverage, especially given US’s influence on Spain’s crack down:

US pressure was in part responsible for Spain’s current tough anti-piracy stance, following a 2008 report that found it to be one of the worst countries in Europe for piracy.

As Wikipedia said, this protest is about the worldwide movement that is seemingly cracking down on the internet and freedom of speech:

We don’t think Sopa is going away, and Pipa is still quite active. Moreover, Sopa and Pipa are just indicators of a much broader problem. All around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation intended to fight online piracy, and regulate the internet in other ways, that hurt online freedoms.

The internet is seen as a beacon of democracy, a product of globalisation, which itself faces little question in terms of the inequality and division such forces associated with the rubric term globalisation creates, but then at the same time these countries that preach the Internet’s wonders want to limit its access. This is because democracy and freedom of speech can sometimes be too powerful for systems based on wanting to keep people and certain ideas under control, and marginalised. A system that has open discussions, and where information is democratised so more people come informed challenges the basis of capitalism and key factors that keep such a system and its associated oppression tactics in tact: ignorance and misinformation. The internet is a central tool for democratisation, and challenging the factors that prevent democracy. We have to keep fighting for internet freedom and make sure people remember it is a human right. You can help by spreading any information about net neutrality alongside signing this petition against the Acts in the US.

ATOS and Fascism

It’s been a while since I posted a blog; with university (postgrad) around the corner again, I am hoping to get back into more of a routine.

One of the byproducts of the riots was the potential for a shut down of social media networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter at times of ‘social unrest’; such an occurrence would have obviously been subjective and misused by the increasing fascist nature of those in power. The government realised that the public wouldn’t allow a move towards China style human rights and that they would have to implement their fascist activities through other channels. Fascist, as a term to describe the worrying political climate developing, may to some seem rather melodramatic; but if you consider the unraveling policies economically, socially and politically there is a strong hint of Social Darwinism – as a response to people who have been oppressed through social conditions and turned to violent activity (as the rioters did), the most violent element of society (as Emma Goldman argues) of ignorance and biased representations is implemented by those in power resulting in people being thrown out of their homes and losing their benefits, for instance. It’s a worrying time. Economic sadism, the restriction of freedom of speech, the implementation of policies where only those with money can survive is a capitalistic form of fascism.

Consider ATOS and the government’s continual support of a corrupt profit driven corporation, with very little to do with understanding disabled people’s needs, as employees are expected to meet targets of assessing 5 ‘claimants‘ (not patients) within a morning or afternoon session, giving only 45 minutes maximum for a thorough assessment. They are an IT company after all. I had it pitched to me that ATOS’s recent closing down of internet sites was a form of internet fascism – and the person had a point.

ATOS Origin, the branch of ATOS dealing with the health assessments etc., have been on a frightful shutting down of websites spree because the websites dare to report the truth in terms of the incompetent, sometimes even lethal assessments ATOS put people through. Carer Watch Discussion Forum was shut down with ATOS not given the Carer Watch any prior warning, instead contacting their ISP to remove the site. This was because of a post that was five months old that linked to another site, the content therefore was not even directly on Carer Watch and still remained on the other site that had obviously not been attacked by ATOS as the private discussion forum had! Carer Watch removed the post and ATOS allowed their site to be reinstated. To read the email exchanges regarding Carer Watch and ATOS check here.

ATOS also threatened Paul Smith with legal action because of his ATOS Register of Shame providing a list of medical professionals who had performed poor medical examinations. Full credit to Paul, as he has set up a new site called A### The Truth, where people can keep providing information about their personal experiences as they had done before on the Register. The fact ATOS can claim libel illustrates the increasingly damaging climate we are in, where a company can have no financial penalties for facing appeals and can carry on making money for destroying people’s lives.

They also threatened AfterAtos with legal action because of one of their spoof designs of the ATOS’s logo (the picture included in this blog is a perfect example), using the words “ATOS Kills” – which is hardly libel given that it sometimes has truth to it! This attack upon freedom of speech is appalling when considering that 1/5th of the ATOS centres do not have wheelchair access, only a 1/3 have on site parking, with many having to walk several minutes to access the site, only 1 centre has car parking facilitates for disabled people and 30 of the centres are not on the ground floor and some do not have lifts! Given that these buildings are there for disabled people to be assessed, this shameful disability provision is disgusting and further evidence of why disabled people have every right to use social media channels to get their voice, so often silenced through oppressive mainstream media coverage, of their REAL experiences!

It’s a time where job centres are being passed around guidelines for people feeling suicidal – the fact that one job seeker worker who has been there for over 20 years said nothing of this nature had been given to workers before (so this obviously covers the Thatcher era) illustrates how frightening the potential effects of the government’s policy changes are:

We were a bit shocked. Are we preparing ourselves to be like the Samaritans? The fact that we’ve dealt with the public for so many years without such guidance has made people feel a bit fearful about what’s coming.”

In a recent Mind survey, they found that at least 3/4s of those surveyed felt worse after their work capability assessments and that 51% of them had been left with suicidal thoughts! This strongly relates to a blog post I did a few months back regarding ethics and welfare. Essentially, the point of the blog was to demonstrate how the increasing interconnection of society is connected to the vulnerability that each one of us has. Judith Butler argues that there is a difference however between those seen as having ‘livable’ and ‘unlivable’ lives, where the former’s vulnerability is respected and cared for, whereas the latter’s is ignored and thus they are treated unethically. This can apply to those who experience ATOS examinations, their vulnerability and the respect people should have for each other is lost as people become mere codes placed into a totally objective inadequate computer system. This construction of ‘unlivable’ lives relates to the current sociopolitical conditions and the rising fascist tide in society, as people who don’t meet the capitalist model are chucked onto the scrap heap as ‘unlivable’ in a Social Darwin purge.

On a personal end note, I was at the London Vegan festival a week and a bit ago and bought an “against fascism, racism and nationalism” patch to sew on to one of my many holey pairs of trousers and couldn’t help but think that now is a time when these words are so true and worth remembering in our fight against this Tory government.

Mental health and the political stifling of rightful dissent…

In another striking example of the problem with consensus politics, the government has sacked Professor David Richards – despite being an independent advisor – for writing an article that questioned whether the promised £400 million for the newly announced mental health initiative was to be paid for from new money or through the existing NHS budget, saying:

“I personally feel very aggrieved that mental health is being used by this government to shore up its very poor opinion poll ratings and I don’t want to be part of it.”

With striking similarity to the sacking of Professor Nutt, sacking Richards for merely seeking clarification illustrates the profound conflicts with democracy at the heart of the institutions the West try to indoctrinate other countries to adopt, often through force:

His comments and sacking resulted from his frustrated efforts to get an answer to three important questions, he says. He wanted to know to what extent the money would come from cuts elsewhere in the budget; what mechanisms there were to ensure every penny was spent on training and therapy; and what systems had been put in place to ensure existing funds were not slashed as NHS cuts bit.

Whilst the Tories supported Nutt’s dismissal, Chris Huhme provides another classic quote re Nutt’s dismissal illustrating how unprincipled the LibDems have become:

“What is the point of having independent scientific advice if as soon as you get some advice that you don’t like, you sack the person who has given it to you?”

Exactly! Shame Huhme has given up defending these principles.

Regardless, any benefits from the mental health policy will be cancelled out through the effects of the £81bn cuts the government is enacting as communities are destroyed and public services are shut down as the banks and fat cats line their pockets. The NHS itself is to undergo serious reform which has been criticised from all sides of the debate, but again a very restricted ‘consensus’ decision has meant this criticism has been totally discredited. Whilst the mental health strategy sounds encouraging (especially considering what it influenced on Twitter), when framed within the political and economic context the situation seems rather different:

There will also be concern that the £400m, which is coming from existing allocations for NHS primary care trusts, may not find its way to the intended schemes. Ministers are not ringfencing the cash and other mental health services are under growing pressure, with hundreds of hospital beds threatened with closure.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that mental illness is a form of disability and with the 20% attack of disability benefits this strategy seems even more like a token. Cutting to this extent illustrates an ideological commitment, not a ‘necessity’, and undermines any attempt to promote mental health and disability in general as something other than a stigmatic’ problem’.

Again, I revert to the wonders of Murray Bookchin, who was very critical of consensus politics but also anarchists who promoted ultimate autonomy and instead advocated for a consideration of dissent within majority rule. People may argue that this is what we have now, but when considering how the social political and economic relations shut out people who fail to conform to hegemonic constructs, this is rather factious.

In contrast, Bookchin’s vision of a future reality is important to work towards, this involves campaigning against such reductions of political debate. Only in a society where dissent is not stifled and we have real informed public debate will we begin to overturn the democratic deficit so ripe within society:

If consensus could be achieved without compulsion of dissenters, a process that is feasible in small groups, who could possibly oppose it as a decision-making process? But to reduce a libertarian ideal to the unconditional right of a minority — let alone a “minority of one” — to abort a decision by a “collection of individuals” is to stifle the dialectic of ideas that thrives on opposition, confrontation and, yes, decisions with which everyone need not agree and should not agree, lest society become an ideological cemetery. Which is not to deny dissenters every opportunity to reverse majority decisions by unimpaired discussion and advocacy – Bookchin.

The right to protest: Cameron the dictator?

In response to yesterday’s CSR, there was a series of protests staged across the country. However, my recognition of this on Twitter caused some distrest amongst my Tory and right-wing minded followers. Consider the following tweets @me:

Dyslexic_Trojan

1) I do not underestimate their power you over-estimate there childishness most ppl accept the cuts

2) It is there right but it’s not there right to hold the nation to ransom

3) They can write to there MP’s or concentrate on finding new jobs

ArnieEtc

4 )We live in a parliamentary democracy, if you don’t like what’s happening you change it through ballot box/We live in a parliamentary democracy, so should accept the democratic will of Parliament!

5) I don’t see how unelected bodies threatening an elected parliament can be considered ‘democratic’!/They have no right to threaten damaging actions against our nation, just because they don’t like the outcome of an election.

Now you see, there is a common theme to both right-wing political commentators’ tweets: they have a very restrictive and coercive view of democracy. They ignore the fact that more people voted collectively against the cuts, in fact, even the Tories hadn’t promised to eradicate the structural deficit in their election campaign! Now to counter each claim:

  1. This was a reference to the protest video provided by the Guardian, which I had tweeted. As I have already stated, more people voted against the level and speed of the cuts outlined. Regardless, we do not live in a dictatorship and one of the fundamental rights of a democracy is to allow people the right to protest. Calling these people ‘childish’ is unbelievably disrespectful! These people, and I am one of them, are fighting against a considerable assault upon our livelihoods – this is in no sense of the word, “childish”.
  2. You see, this is a traditional line thrown towards the union and protest movement, as though they are only a small and restrictive selection of population. The only people these protests hold to account are those, predominately comfortably off, people making the decisions at the top without a care in the world for the very regressive effects their policies are having on people. The people who support this line are the businessmen who don’t want to see their profits undermined in the tight competitive capitalist system we live in. So Cameron can tuck himself into his bed at Chequers whilst people are being thrown out of their homes because of housing benefits cuts, but people have every right to protest.
  3. This is again an argument that is divorced from the context of what has just happened. There is set to be 490,000 public job loses, and given the contractual relation to the private sector with PFI etc, there is set to many job losses in the private sector as well! Now, how are people expected to find these ‘new’ jobs when there is no growth strategy, and they are faced with ever reducing benefits and a possible housing crisis (due to the assault on social housing and housing benefit etc)? How are people to be encouraged into finding a job in an increasingly depressive market?
  4. Now two tweets that have the same meaning attached to them: a very specific definition of politics that ignores the many forms of political action and organisation and says the only legitimate form is electoral democracy. Now, you see this can be undermined in so many ways. For one, we have a political electoral system (FPTP), which means that people aren’t always able to change it through the ballot box, in the way they wish. For example, the Green Party, unlike the three main parties, don’t want cuts – but the electoral system means that they can’t be given a majority to ensure this. So, people should not be expected to put up and shut up, or to turn to another political party and forget their beliefs – they should be allowed other forms of protest. This argument that we should somehow always accept parliament as the absolute moral authority is the type of argument you’d expect in a dictatorship like Iran!
  5. This is an assault on the civil society forms of protest such as social movements. As Gramsci emphasised in his work around hegemony, the civil society is a crucial area for political protest (however, there is work that refers to how Gramsic has three forms of hegemony – regardless, his best conception emphasised the importance of civil society being separate from the state and the economy, but having a relationship still). Civil society protests are important when considering the gendered nature of democracy, for example – for many feminist we are in a continual state of transitional democracy as we are yet to have equality between women and men. By defining democracy as exclusively to do with people who are elected into parliament, it denies groups that are excluded by this process a form of political representation. These organisations are representative, they are representative of groups excluded and ignored. They are often more democratic than parliament itself (in terms of structures, representation of interests etc).

Now, it seems that there are a few out there (on the right) who are rightfully worried about the protests that are to come against these cuts and harmful policies. Some people on the left seem to be a bit jaded and demoralised from the review, hardly surprising. However, we need to make sure that we don’t let the Tories depress us to the point that we can’t make our voices of objection heard. There is nothing about protesting, when it is peaceful and constructive, that harms anyone other than the government’s “we are all this together” or “these cuts are inevitable” lines!

In Sum, Nick Robinson’s disgraceful actions to a rightful protest sums up some people’s views on the right side of the political spectrum re protests:

Stopping Cameron’s book shows how Bercow’s PMQ suggestions may be damaging…

Bercow wants to reform PMQs so that there is less show and more scrutiny. Whilst it might sound like a good idea, I think the atmosphere around PMQs is a strong attraction and reason for why people watch it. Take Bercow stopping Cameron from reading out of Price’s book today, many people I saw tweet and comment about this were genuinely interested in what he was going to say (I was one of them). There are many other debates and committees that are set up to allow for scrutiny, but this type of debate is also needed to maintain interest in politics.

Remember the rules around the leader debates before the election – there were many who were annoyed at the strictness of them, and the inability the audience had to banter, respond and make any noise – in consequence, the audience soon broke the rules.

I don’t know however, if I speak for a few or many people – that is why this sort of reform would benefit from public debate. I agree that PMQs is hardly the most informative political debate, but it adds a bit of light-heartedness to what is a very serious and sometimes complicated trade (politics). I think if PMQs was radically altered from what it is now, people would really miss this current format – a lot more than they may currently think they would.

Also, it is important to remember the scrutiny that takes place after PMQs and the debates this can spark. Even if there is no rigid scrutiny within the 30 minutes, there are programmes and newspapers who look into comments, report them and further people’s understanding of important issues. Furthermore, with new technology, there are many sites such as twitter, updating blogs which provide ample scrutiny of the ongoings.

There may however, be areas where PMQs need reforming; planted questions (which Bercow raises) can be very tedious – but the actual style of PMQs – the banter and the entertainment aspect – for me, has to stay.