Thursday, January 19

The Death of Internet Freedom?

I was scheduled to write a post about another topic today, but it seems there’s a more important issue at hand.

From midnight of January 18 (Eastern Standard Time), WIKIPEDIA has gone on an “Information Blackout.” This went on for 24 hours and it has just finished.

If you had been using your laptop (not mobile) and clicked on WIKIPEDIA, you would’ve seen nothing but a message like this:

"Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge...

And this is how Google expressed their stand: 

This has become a trending topic on Twitter.

These sites are protesting against two bills called SOPA and PIPA currently in the US Senate and House of Representatives. (SOPA means “Stop Online Piracy Act” and PIPA means “Protect Intellectual Property Act.”)

Originally, these were made to stop copyright infringement committed by non-US websites. But these legislative bills have the potential to bring damaging effects on the free, open and secure Internet, and freedom of expression as a whole.

1.       In one part of the SOPA, a social media site like Facebook or Youtube – basically ANY site with content that comes from users – must learn to police their own sites. This means a lot of money will go to liability costs out of the pockets of these Internet companies.

This is why many venture capitalists have said they wouldn’t invest in online start-up companies anymore if SOPA and PIPA passed.

2.       Ironically, SOPA could give the US government power not unlike an authoritarian regimes’ online censorship  – like in China and Iran – and worse, it will also ban all the tools that can be used to go around this strict system.

3.       Under the SOPA and PIPA, some service providers can also block innocent users and sites very easily, just to gain favor and immunity from the government. The system is very open to abuse.

4.       Similarly, PIPA and SOPA also plan to give copyright-holders more power. Before, copyright owners could have infringing material or content taken out of the web. If the SOPA and PIPA passed, they would have the power to shut down entire websites.

And especially, this targets websites outside the US.

5.       The US Attorney General would also have the power to remove a website from search engines. 

      So, as Google chairman Eric Schmidt said: This would make “linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself” a criminal act. 

There are a lot of other parts in SOPA and PIPA that would greatly affect how you can freely use the Internet now. It will punish millions and millions of innocent users around the world.

And although the Obama administration has voiced their stand:

"While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

The battle for Internet freedom is still not over.

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