I’m sure all of you are familiar with the internet – if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. There are 2.3 billion internet users around the world. The majority of these users are concentrated in the developed world, but many also reside in newly industrialized countries like China, India, and Brazil. As the number of internet users rises each year, there is also a rise in restrictions on internet freedom.
China, for example, has recently begun experimenting with more subtle methods of censoring internet search results. In the past, a Chinese user searching for keywords related to the events of June 4, 1989 (The date of the Tienanmen Square Massacre), would come across a clear message saying that the content is blocked. According to GreatFire.org, certain searches, such as “June 4 incident,” have been intermittently returning a series of “carefully selected results,” with the actual webpages being unaccessable. China’s “Great Firewall” makes large sections of the Internet unreachable from the Chinese mainland and steers Chinese users toward “censored domestic sites.”
Internet censorship is not exclusive to China, and hits closer to home than many Americans would think. On February 5, 2013, the White House published an article on its blog titled “Working to Counter Online Radicalization to Violence in the United States.” What this means is that the US government wants to “investigate and prosecute those who use the internet to recruit others to plan or carry out acts of violence, while ensuring that we also continue to uphold individual privacy and civil liberties.” Doesn’t sound too bad when you say it like that, but is that what the government really intends to do? This government does not exactly have the best track record of upholding the civil liberties of detained criminals, or even those who they perceive as criminals. What is really going on, is that they are trying to exert their influence over the one area that, for the most part, has been untouched by government regulations.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), proposed in 2011, is another attempt by the government to meddle where they have no right to be meddling. If you are not familiar with this bill, it basically allows the Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders against websites that “facilitate” or “enable” copyright infringement. The act could also include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators, such as PayPal, from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring internet service providers to block access to such sites. Now, if I’m not mistaken, “facilitating,” “linking to,” and advertising on such sites is not illegal. Piracy is illegal, so why not go after the ones who actually post copyrighted content online? Why does the government seek to punish those who interact with such sites, most of whom had no direct involvement in the distribution of copyrighted material? YouTube.com has millions of users, some of whom post copyrighted content, but by the government’s logic, YouTube (owned by Google) is the criminal, and not the ‘pirates’ themselves.
The desire to control internet content is not limited to the Democratic Obama administration. Republican leaders like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have openly supported the censorship of all forms of “obscene” material on the internet, including pornography. Because many American children have “free access to obscene pornography,” these politicians have reached the conclusion that it is now the government’s job to do what parents should be doing. Child pornography is obviously illegal and the government has every right to go after those who distribute such sick content, but consensual adult pornography does not fit the bill. It doesn’t matter though, because the same men who are running our country want to decide what you are allowed to see and not see.
Protecting the free internet, a first amendment right for all Americans, is not limited to liberals/conservatives/Democrats/Republicans. All sides of the spectrum have their own Agent Smiths who want to control our lives. It is up to the rest of us to make sure that doesn’t happen.