Opponents of the PCIPA say that it is not about child porn. It never has been and never will be according to Rep. Darrell Issa (R – Calif). “This is a convenient way for the Government to get what they couldn’t in the Patriot Act.”
Not surprisingly, many big corporate players are uneasy about Government intervention on the Web. While few Internet users in Western countries face outright censorship, government officials are stepping up efforts to prevent cybercrime, protect privacy, and crack down on copyright infringement. Germany and Canada have also used Hate-Speech laws to go after ISPs that knowingly host illegal content.
This past June, ISPs in Australia took matters into their own hands and restricted access to a list of 500 web sites to ward off government intervention. Over the past year, cyberspace experienced a surge in government interference, restrictions on the flow of information, and disputes over how Internet traffic is exchanged.
In the United States, power struggles over the Internet are under way on many fronts. Various proposals making their way through Congress would enact sweeping changes to laws governing cybersecurity, online privacy, and protection of intellectual property. Each fight, regardless of the specifics, has the potential to change the balance of control between the government, the communications industry, and private individuals. The Global Online Freedom Act, would require technology companies to receive permission from U.S. officials before complying with restrictive foreign governments. Critics charge that it is autocratic for the U.S. to try to control what other governments want these businesses to do.
Another Bill proposes a measure that would require websites and online services to abide by strict privacy rules for children under 12, including prohibition of tracking a child’s online browsing. some critics say that the Bill would actually reduce privacy because Internet companies would need to collect even more personal information in order to determine if the user is under 12 years old.
Government efforts to protect against hacking present some of the greatest challenges to Internet freedom. Legislation proposed by Homeland Security would give the Feds absolute authority to enforce cybersecurity and push the private sector to establish “best practices” against hackers. Additionally, the Director of National Intelligence has proposed measures to beef up security by making it easier to track and identify people online. Critics warn that if this legislation is passed, we might have an Internet where information flowing is much more easily controlled by the government and in which anonymity is impossible, thus posing a very real threat to free speech. A capability to track and attribute malicious activities could just as easily be employed to track and control any other type of activity.
Let me know your thoughts on the value of this series of essays on Government control of the Internet. I’d love to hear from you.
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