Protecting the internet

As I mentioned in my blog post from yesterday, the internet is extremely important. We all know that. It’s fun to use it’s become an incredibly important part of our economy and will continue to grow in general importance. In some ways Thomas Friedman is correct in the book the World is Flat, the internet has increased the ability for people all over the world to compete in the same way. However, where he goes wrong is that he assumes that this flattening and economic importance will protect the internet.

Unfortunately this isn’t the case. We, the users of the internet, will have to continually work to protect the internet from special interest groups that seek to control its use. We have seen this in the US with SOPA/PIPA and with ACTA in Europe (And now Trans Pacific Partnership). A small group of companies in an industry that isn’t really able to innovate is attempting to dominate the manner in which the internet is being used. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, there are already more agreements in the works. The most recent in the US is a bill being pushed by our dear friend Lamar Smith from Texas. Yup, same guy that did SOPA he’s pushing a law that will require all ISPs to collect data on their users and store it for over 6 months. In addition websites are going to be required to collect similar data. The goal of the bill is to prevent child pornography.

This type of law is also being considered in Canada and there was a recent protest where a twitter user was pretending to be Vic Toews. This has rather upset Mr. Toews an MP there. However, these bills essentially destroy any sort of privacy on the internet. In many cases web companies simply hand over data to law enforcement agencies and governments without any need for a warrant or a court order. Twitter is one of the few companies that puts up a fight about user data. As users we really don’t know how often our data is being handed over to any sort of governmental organization.

In addition to these individual laws and treaties China and Russia want the UN to become a governing body over the internet. I think this is a very interesting idea, however with the two countries that are pushing this change it also has cause for concern. Both of these countries really work to control the access of information for their respective peoples. A treaty at this level may make it more difficult for individual country’s industries really impact laws relating to the internet and freedom. I am going to be watching this very carefully.

As users we need to be aware of these sorts of developments and make sure that we are active in protecting the thing we all love and use on a regular basis. The internet.

Crowd Source Legislation

Crowd sourcing, is a name for a group of people taking part in something from all over the place. One of the first initiatives like this is open source software, a more recent version is Crowd source funding for businesses. These started as initiatives to give micro loans in Africa and other developing countries. More recently, websites like Kickstarter have allowed everyday people to help get new ventures starting (I plan on writing more about this later).

So what’s the deal with the legislation? Well, essentially, this is building upon the momentum Reddit and other websites generated during the SOPA/PIPA protests. Members have decided to create something like an internet bill of rights. The idea is the create a better balance between content holders, private companies, governments and users. In China there’s a great deal of censorship and Google and Twitter have both announced censorship based on the location of the user. This type of censorship would have killed the Arab spring before it happened.

OK? but that’s not going to effect me in the US. Well, we don’t know that. Yes, we have provisions against free speech, but that’s against governments censoring speech. It’s difficult to know what a private company will censor when this speech is in a quasipublic/private space. Facebook routinely censors groups and speech on their site. Additionally, look at what’s happening with MegaUpload.com and their users. There was legitimate use on the website and the Department of Justice doesn’t care. The EFF and the hosting company are working to find the legitimate data held on the site.

One of the goals of the act would be to reduce the ability of sites to censor speech. It’s clear that this is an important goal of the act. Additionally, there are programs, like TOR, that have been developed to allow people behind censorship to circumvent it (See my post about how TOR works). However, there could be penalties for people that use TOR in the US to help people circumvent the censorship. These types of ideas are what the goal of FIA is.

If you’re interested in taking your anger at SOPA/PIPA into a new direction and potentially become more involved in our government check it out here: http://www.reddit.com/r/fia/

But that’s US based stuff. Yes, sure it is. It seems like most of the users interested are from the US. Many of the users involved would like to see this become a treaty instead of just a law. In that case involvement from many different countries would be ideal and requested. Additionally, there is no reason why this type of legislation should be restricted to the US. These ideas are universal.

The Government Strikes Back

The internet had thought it won a great victory with the black out of some seriously major websites, however it was a short lived victory as the Fed and its allies the vicious RIAA and MPAA have regrouped and launched a stunning counter attack destroying a rebel outpost on Hoth… errr Actually, The US government has shut down MegaUpload.com and arrested several employees for copyright infringement. You may remember MegaUpload for recently being involved in a dispute with Universal over a YouTube video. Where Universal issued false DMCA take down notices which required YouTube to take down the video. However, this video wasn’t infringing and MegaUpload sued Universal for the false claims. The interesting thing about this video is that it’s about all the legal ways you can use MegaUpload. The video is essentially an attempt by the company to show that there are legitimate uses for their services which, I’m assuming, was an attempt to get them into the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA.

To me, this action really shows that the US government doesn’t need SOPA to pass for it to censor the internet. It already has the ability to do so. SOPA would just put a rubber stamp approval on the actions that the government is already taking. This should be a wake up call. Yes, we had one with the joke of hearings for SOPA previously, however this is a slap in the face of the internet. It’s basically saying, sure we heard you, but you know what? you don’t matter.

Sure it might not be as easy as it would have been with SOPA passing and it’s not breaking the internet the way that SOPA would, but it’s still happening. As much as I hate Maddox, he’s right in his post about SOPA. We really have been pretty complacent, myself included. Yes, I’ve written a bunch, signed petitions and emailed my senators and congressmen multiple times, but big deal. Right now this is a hot button topic, but this isn’t going to go away. No one spoke up about the NDAA because it didn’t impact your ability to read Reddit or surf wikipedia. That law is as bad or worse than SOPA depending on what you think of freedom and civil liberties.

When I got home last night and saw that MegaUpload had been shut down, I was miserable. It made me feel completely impotent. That I was unable to impact the way the US government acts in any meaningful way. At this point, I’m not really sure what to do about this. If any other government would be doing this the US would be up in arms (perhaps literally) and would put a stop to it. Our government is doing this in our name and it’s horribly depressing that I can’t do anything to stop it.

Maddox is right. SOPA only failed because we were paying attention and we were able to get the tech giants behind us on it. SOPA will rear its ugly head again and we might be sleeping. The empire has struck back and we need to decide what we are going to do about it. Are we going to get some ewoks and take it down or are we going to keep signing petitions?

Anonymous has decided to fight back and has launched a large number of attacks on internet websites. As citizens that are deeply concerned with the MegaUpload action we need to ask ourselves, is this an appropriate response? Is this a way of protesting and assembling in an online space? Should anonymous be locked up for doing this? I think that this is a type of protest. Anonymous is as frustrated as I am and have decided to do something in response. It’s obvious that they felt like this is a direct attack on the internet in response to the SOPA protests and the “abuse of power” the internet displayed in taking down websites to protest SOPA.

It also begs the question, what will these website attacks actually accomplish?

What are some of your thoughts on this?

Update 1: I just saw that some 9,000 Hackers have joined Anonymous

Update 2: Apparently Anonymous is using a link that directs users to a Low Orbit Ion Canon DDoS tool that uses the users computer to attack a website. This is an interesting tactic as it will make it very difficult for agents to determine who was malicious and those that were  ignorant of what they were doing. Thus making the tool a more effective protest tool. It will be interesting to see what the ramifications of this new tactic are. I think it will be used again in the future and will make it as “easy” as signing a petition to join a DDoS without having to do the hard work of setting up the LOIC on your computer. Interesting.

Did yesterday’s internet black out save the internet?

I’ve seen a lot of commentary about how the web may have been saved because of the internet’s “abuse of power.” How parts of the internet shut down for a day. I’m sure this impacted a great deal of people, may have actually hurt our economy a little bit. However, one day of action won’t save the internet.

I’ll agree it made a huge impact as support for SOPA/PIPA has plummeted. Yes, this round of attack by the MPAA and RIAA may have been twarted, but this is just the beginning of the fight for the internet. Ars Technica, has an excellent write up for a plan for how to address some of the concerns of copyright holders in a much better fashion. A manner which would not destroy the internet like SOPA/PIPA.

However, I think that this is a case of industrial policy legislation that is picking winners. In several blogs and posts at the Urban Times, I have written in favor of using some policies to enact changes of behavior. However, in these cases it’s because a novel technology isn’t being adopted that leads to benefits for the social good. In the case of copyright holders, these policies aren’t for the common good, but are being put into place to protect an aging business model that is not innovative. The policies I recommend are to help innovators compete against the status quo.

Data has shown that increasing the availability or decreasing the availability impacts the rate of piracy for television shows. Which indicates to me, policies should be striving to push companies to increase access to copyrighted material, not to go after pirating website. The responsibility for dealing with pirates should be with the copyright holder. They have the means to actually reduce piracy through reducing the amount of licensing fees and increasing accessibility.

We should be pushing our government leaders to put initiatives in places that require massive concessions from copyright holders, if they abuse their copyright position, including losing that copyright. Subscription services like Spotify and Pandora allow users to get access to content either free, with ads, or for a small price. However, these services don’t allow users to access everything. This leads to frustration. If I was able to listen to whatever on Spotify, there’d be no reason to pirate.

What does this mean? Well, we can celebrate the change in positions of congressional members, however this isn’t over yet. OPEN act may be the next step in this battle. Free internet should be our goal, free as in speech not beer. However, people are willing to pay and I think in this case, business models need to catch up with technology.

Which bill is worse NDAA or SOPA?

I was posed this interesting question by my friend JurriĆ«n, which bill is worse the most recent NDAA or SOPA. What is the NDAA? Well it’s a yearly bill called the National Defense Authorization Act, however there were some incredibly important changes to this years bill. This years NDAA turned the United States into a battle field and gave the US government the right to arrest anyone for any reason. It also includes provisions for allowing the indefinite detention of any US citizen. Something like this has already occurred with the PATRIOT Act, which allowed the President to go after so called “enemy combatants.” Most of these prisoners are currently being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

What does this bill mean to you and me? Well, the basic argument is if you’re doing nothing wrong it won’t impact you. However, I see in this bill the potential to return to McCarthyism at it’s worst. Only instead of Communists we’ll be seeing terrorists everywhere. Likely it could eventually lead to oppression of anyone that appears to be Arabic, Pakistani, Afghan, or similar skin tone. This type of power is ripe for abuse and might be extended to fight the “War on Drugs” as many of those groups are essentially terrorists in Mexico.

What about SOPA? I’ve written about that fairly extensively, but tomorrow we’re going to get to see a preview of what life might be like under SOPA. Tomorrow Reddit, Wikipedia, imgur and many other smaller websites are going to black out all of their content. Nothing will be readable as a protest against the law. In addtion, the Senate counter part PIPA (Protect IP act) is up for a hearing on Jan 24 so be sure to contact your Senator

Both laws I think are going to be abused by the US government and by agencies that are given additional powers. In many ways they are similar in that they restrict our Constitutional Rights as Americans. We will lose our 6th Amendment right to a trial by jury and our 8th Amendment Rights, which prohibits excessive, cruel and unusual punishments. Based on this, Chris Hedges has sued Obama over the passing of this bill. This might have a good chance of succeeding in overturning the law.

SOPA/PIPA aren’t on the books yet. I think that we can prevent these two from passing and will for a time save the internet. It will take a lot of continual effort and we will have to remain vigilant against surprise sessions where they attempt to pass the laws.

I worry that the NDAA will not be revoked in its current form and will be used to dramatically harm US citizens. Additionally, I fear any attempt to link SOPA/PIPA to national defense which would surely pass. So at this point, NDAA is worse only because it has passed. Once SOPA/PIPA pass, the three combined could be a nightmare for us, but a dream come true for dictators around the world. What could we say to future Saddam’s when they are able to point to US law and say, you can do it why can’t we?