Monday, 30 April 2012

The end of free speech on the Internet?

The eyes of anyone concerned about protecting our right to use the Internet privately have been on the Government's latest plan to allow spooks access - without a warrant - to all our emails and web browsing history in the name of security.

But we ought to be watching what lawmakers are up to on the other side of the pond too.

The US came a step closer to legitimising corporate snooping on all Internet activity in the name of stamping out cyber-crime (a pretty meaningless term) last week when the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Bill – CISPA – passed through the House of Representatives.

Next, it needs to pass a vote of the US Senate – and then it will pass to US President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

CISPA would, if it becomes law, allow the Government to tell any company of any perceived threat to their legitimate business activities from any on-line activity – and since Cyber-Crime is so loosely defined that could include any alleged copyright infringement – and, worse, allow any company to share such information – even down to the contents of emails – with any other, and with any branch of the US Government.

Basically, it would mean the end of free speech on the Internet – and due to the international nature of the Internet, the threat applies to all of us, whether we live in the US or not.

No wonder it has attracted the condemnation of human rights organisations – like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation – and ‘hacktivist’ groups like Anonymous.

Internet-based social change organisation Avaaz.org (with 14m members!) is campaigning against CISPA, as is US Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul – and US president Barack Obama has threated to veto the bill if it passes the US Senate.

But that isn’t the end of CISPA by any means.

Last year Presidenrt Obama threatened to veto another piece of legislation, the National Defence Authorization Act: but when push came to shove he caved in to corporate interests and signed it into law anyway.

Exactly the same thing could happen with CISPA – the corporate world is, after all, in favour of CISPA, with high-profile supporters including Microsoft, facebook and IBM.

Of course some could argue that the real threat to free speech on the INternet is the punishment meted out by the court of public opinion when people do or say careless things on the INternet - but that's another issue for another day!

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