“Father of the Internet” Vint Cerf on Monday warned that Internet freedom is under threat from governments around the world, including the United States.
Cerf, a computer scientist who was instrumental in the Internet’s creation, now employed by Google as its “Internet evangelist,” said officials in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe are using intellectual property and cybersecurity issues “as an excuse for constraining what we can and can’t do on the ‘net.”
“Political structures … are often scared by the possibility that the general public might figure out that they don’t want them in power,” he said.
He sounded the alarm about the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), arguing the group is poised to assume the role of global Internet cop.
Over the past three decades, as I worked in computer technology and participated in the emergence and spread of the Internet from the mid-1980’s on, I came to understand what a profound game changing technology this was in its impact on society not just in the United States, but worldwide, as it spread and grew into a global, connected electronic network.
I can only compare the effect of the Internet on society to the effect of the introduction of the moveable type printing press in the western world by Gutenberg in 1436.
Suddenly the creation and dissemination of printed books, tracts, handbills, and fliers gave the average citizen the power to communicate in a way that was outside the control of the ruling classes, the nobility and clergy.
In the religious sphere, no longer was the copying, transmission, and interpretation of the Bible the sole preserve of the clergy of the Roman Catholic church. Suddenly everyone could have their own copy of the Bible, in their own language. They could read it, interpret it, and decide for themselves what it meant. The result? The Protestant Reformation, and all it entailed for the further course of the Christian church. That religious schism and the rapid development of many Protestant denominations and groups of course had a profound effect on the further course of history. Europe was shaped by wars and politics rooted in those religious battles and interpretations.
In the political sphere, it suddenly became possible to not only communicate in ways that bypassed the control of the nobility and the state, but it became possible to print and distribute anonymous handbills and fliers and political tracts, as well as political statements to which the authors were willing to attach their names. But most important, the political ruling class began to lose control of the message. As a result, we got interesting historical times, things like The Enlightenment, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the emergence of Democracy and Democratic Republics, and ultimately the fall of kings and an end to the feudalistic ownership and power structures of the Middle Ages.
Just to draw some a historical parallel, since one of the current threats to Internet freedom are efforts by legislators to ban anonymity on the web: In the late 1700s the Federalist Papers were initially published anonymously. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay proved eventually to be the authors.
Not minor stuff to be piffled at.
In this context, it is interesting to see that coming out of nowhere, and not even existing a few years ago, the Pirate Party in Germany has suddenly taken 11% of the vote in German elections.
t’s a fairytale success: two years ago, hardly anyone knew that the Pirate Party even existed; now, all of a sudden, it has won seats in state parliaments in four successive elections, and a new poll puts them at 11% of Germany’s national vote. And that’s despite still not having any clear stand on important issues such as Afghanistan or the euro crisis. The German press is bewildered and horrified by turns. The Pirates are a chaotic bunch, they say, a protest party without a real political agenda. A group of internet addicts, nerds who primarily want to download music and films for free.
Anyone who wants to understand the potential of the Pirate Party must first realise that the internet is more than a technical means to an end and more than a playground for file sharers. The internet is the birthplace and living space of a communication society and therefore the key to the transformation of an era; its far-reaching effects will one day be ranked alongside those of trains, planes and automobiles.
Overcoming barriers is about freedom. This is the point that is clearly so difficult to convey. The Pirates are not an internet party but a party interested in freedom. The internet can be seen as a metaphor for what that means today: freedom through equal rights, freedom through the expression of opinion, freedom through open access to education and knowledge. Freedom through the erosion of hierarchy and authority. And freedom through participation and pluralism.
Right now, governments worldwide, and that includes our own United States Congress and President, are racing to find ways to regain control of the Internet, and to shove the genie back into the bottle.
And if the peoples of the United States, and the world, do not resist these machinations, then the incredible openness and freedom of the Internet, the greatest information sharing and publishing mechanism in the history of the human race, will be destroyed.
The masters of the universe prefer to control the serfs. The 1% fear the 99%, they fear they will realize how they are exploited, manipulated, and controlled, and, having awakened, revolt.
And right now, they are working as hard as they can to attack the open and free Internet in any way they can.
Some governments such as Pakistan and India are actively putting controls in place to block services like Twitter and Facebook. Many governments, especially overtly totalitarian regimes such as Iran, have massive filtering and spying programs in place, because they the know the power the Internet can have, they saw it during the Arab Spring, when people in Egypt rose up, and the whole world watched via Twitter and Facebook.
My take on the people of the United States is rather pessimistic.
I think they have been lulled into complacency by over a century of unparalleled prosperity and political progress. So they are simply too unaware of the forces in play here. And I seriously think that by the time they realize that the controls and the police state has taken full control, and the Internet and its openness are no more, it will be to late to stop it.
Here in the United States, we already have the so-called Patriot Act, and the NSA and other security organizations have pretty much turned our society into a 24×7 warrantless surveillence society already. The NSA is building a giant data center out in Utah, and it seems pretty clear the government has every intention of eavesdropping on all emails and phone calls, and storing all data on private citizens they can get their hands own, whether there is any legal cause or not. The fourth and fourteenth amendments are pretty much dead in this nation.
And given their utter ignorance of technology, and the willingness of the current members of Congress to preserve their power so they can continue to feed at the trough of the corporate oligarchy, I feel absolutely no confidence they will not in the very near future finally succeed at passing legislation that becomes the death knell of freedom and and open Internet. They have been trying to again and again for the past couple of years. It will come wrapped up and pretending to be all about protecting the property rights of movie and music industry corporations. But it will include granting them extraordinary rights to control the flow of information on the Internet in a way that simply ignores all previous requirements of legal due process, warrants, and search and seizure rules. Congress version of these bills simply turn policing over to the corporate oligarchy. It is that simple, and that dangerous. And it is why the American people need to be stepping up and opposing this bills.
Even the attempts of Congress to pass Cybersecurity legislation are deeply flawed, and represent the potential for more harm than good. The latest example is the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the House of Representatives.
That’s what the House-passed cybersecurity bill does. To recap:
It is incredibly broadly written to give the government access to anyone’s personal information, and for private entities to share that information. An amendment passed Thursday that was couched as an improvement in narrowing the bill actually broadened it. What had been far too loosely lumped as ill-defined “cybersecurity or national security purposes” now says “1) cybersecurity; 2) investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes; 3) protection of individuals from the danger of death or physical injury; 4) protection of minors from physical or psychological harm; and 5) protection of the national security of the United States.” Note that “cybersecurity” and “national security” are not defined or limited in any way.
Cybersecurity should mean protecting networks and systems from hacking, malicious code-like viruses and Trojan horses, denial of service attacks and other disruptions. Now we have bodily harm and child exploitation in what is supposed to be a technology bill. Which means it gives the government huge leeway to collect data on citizens—unrelated to cybersecurity—with no regard to the laws in place to protect privacy. That’s because:
CISAP supersedes all other provisions of the law protecting privacy. That quote up there in the image at the top of this post, that’s directly from the legislation: “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” So the government can start building a case against you for a completely non-cybersecurity related purpose and you have no privacy protections. That information (private emails, browsing history, health care records, or any other information) can be collected by private companies if they think it might be helpful in dealing with a “cyber threat,” or even a not “cyber” threat—a threat of bodily harm or child exploitation.
If a company ends up collecting your information outside of this law (the outward bounds of which are pretty impossible to determine at this point), they have complete civil and criminal blanket immunity built in. They have no incentive not to share everyone’s private information, potential threat or no.
Not only can you not sue, you can’t find out what has been collected about you because the bill completely exempts itself from the Freedom of Information Act.
If you think I am exaggerating about the efforts of ignorant legislators, then you need to be aware that in New York, the legislature is trying to pass legislation that would make it illegal to post anything on the Internet anonymously. No, seriously, that is what the legislation would do.
Did you hear the one about the New York state lawmakers who forgot about the First Amendment in the name of combating cyberbullying and “baseless political attacks”?
Proposed legislation in both chambers would require New York-based websites, such as blogs and newspapers, to “remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post.”
No votes on the measures have been taken. But unless the First Amendment is repealed, they stand no chance of surviving any constitutional scrutiny even if they were approved.
Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte said the legislation would cut down on “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks” and “turns the spotlight on cyberbullies by forcing them to reveal their identity.”
Had the internet been around in the late 1700s, perhaps the anonymously written Federalist Papers would have to be taken down unless Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay revealed themselves.
Clearly the First Amendment means nothing to our lords and masters anymore, either.
Lauren Weinstein, of Privacy Forum and Network Neutrality Squad, writes in depth recently about the coming storm of government efforts world wide to take control of search engines and control their results.
Any search engine, no matter how large, is still only a click away from its competitors. A search engine that did not meet the expectations and needs of its users will find itself abandoned in short order. The users must come first.
Unfortunately, a perfect storm of forces is converging on the Internet in ways that represent an enormous censorship risk to users’ abilities to obtain search results free from government interference.
In fact, we appear to be rapidly moving toward a possible future where governments around the world will demand to micromanage the search results for effectively all search engines, potentially creating an information control regime of an oppressive nature never before seen.
And naturally, all of this will happen with governments arguing that the crackdowns are all “for the good of the people.”
Among other critical threats to the freedom and openness of search engines, Lauren discusses efforts by governments worldwide to control search engines in order to hid information they consider “dangerous, objectionable, blasphemous, embarrassing, or simply just inconvenient.”
Taken individually, various of these arguments for search engine censorship and associated government control over search results, may appear to have ostensibly positive motives in some specific cases.
But even if we take that as a given for the sake of the argument, we need to look beyond the individual cases to the combined impact that embarking on a search engine censorship/government information control regime would entail. Because the unavoidable outcome would appear to be virtually total control of search engines by governments, and human history suggests that information control is a power with which no government can be trusted, however altruistic any given government may appear to be at any particular moment in time.
The rich, the corporations, and the entrenched powers in governments worldwide fear the freedom and open sharing of information on the Internet. It is a threat to their control of the medium and the message. They have finally realized that the passive days of TV and radio delivery are over. The Internet is an interactive medium. And they will do all in their power to destroy it.