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.