Column - We should still be worried about Internet freedom
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, February 2, 2012 02:02
With the dirt still fresh on the grave of the Stop Online Privacy Act and PROTECT IP Act (SOPA/PIPA), another onslaught against Internet freedom is already upon us.
Currently being introduced around the world for signature is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which would create an international standard for intellectual property rights enforcement.
SOPA and PIPA were just practice for defending the Internet as we know it, as ACTA actually manages to be worse in nearly every aspect.
Not only is the scope larger, from generic medicine brands to copyright infringement in all forms online, but ACTA would also create a new governing body accountable to no one. So it would be outside not only the jurisdiction of our own national governments, but even current governing bodies like the United Nations (UN) and World Trade Organization (WTO).
That there is no news about who will even be in this hypothetical governing body, let alone how they would be chosen, is of no surprise because of the suffocating secrecy surrounding the negotiations of the agreement.
Starting in 2006, and initially only between the United States and Japan, negotiations have spread to include most of the First World and now even multinational American corporations.
It was only after two years of closed-door meetings did any details of these negotiations emerge.
From 2008-10, www.wikileaks.org leaked several documents with damning evidence that ACTA would give governments that signed onto the agreement far-reaching powers in the realm of the Internet.
One example is governments that sign onto the agreement would have the ability to shut down not only any website with any non-commercial copyright infringement, but would also remove legal safeguards that limit the liability internet service providers (ISPs) face for hosting such websites.
In essence, ISPs would have to comply with any invasion of privacy from this ACTA governing body – without any warrants being issued or due process for these new-found offenders.
Widely used free software, from the Firefox browser to Open Office Word Processor, would be harder to come by as decentralized file-sharing websites like BitTorrent would be shut down.
Regardless of the legality of the material on such websites, which do host a fair share of both legal and illegal content, all would be punished.
This extends to all websites, even the likes of Twitter and Facebook.
If just one user were to post a link to material that was non-commercial copyright infringement – almost every YouTube link for example – the social networking site would be shut down as a whole for all its millions of users.
It is breathtakingly heavy-handed legislation like this that reminds us why Wikileaks was created in the first place – to leak important documents that can greatly affect our society like ACTA.
Even legal requests via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the full text of ACTA to be released have been denied by both the Bush and Obama administrations since 2006, with the latest denial in 2009.
While our own country's government is one of the main sources of this detestable legislation, unfortunately there are currently protests going on in Poland against that country's government signing onto ACTA.
With thousands out in the streets protesting in front of their parliament, and public polls showing a majority against its signing, ACTA is receiving its first public resistance.
After all, what kind of waterfall of authority is this? Governments govern only by the consent of the governed.
This is pure authority responding to their own demands and those of their benefactors, not our own, giving themselves yet even more layers of control over our lives.
This isn't even just a law being passed like SOPA/PIPA, this is a whole new quasi-non-government yet governing agency that will answer only to itself and those interests it benefits.
No checks, no balances, no elections – just a shadowy group of government bureaucrats and corporate hacks who will have the ability to control how we share information online.
This is a turning point in which an agency can be forever entrenched into the fabric of our lives that can amend its own governing document and not be accountable to governments or even other non-government institutions like the UN, let alone the people it's affecting.
Keep in mind, this is not out of some dystopian novel by Phillip K. Dick, off Alex Jones' website or a rumor you heard this one time at a party – this is real life.
Look up ACTA on any search engine, and its existence will stare right back at you from your screen.
If our Internet generation needed anymore galvanizing moments to push back against a creeping authoritarianism in our society, this is it.