We are witnessing yet more of our individual freedoms being further whittled away on both sides of the Atlantic as well as in mainland Europe and even in Australia and New Zealand as the Internet, always hated and feared by totalitarian regimes the world over, comes under increasing threat from ostensibly democratic governments. Martyn Warwick reports.
Even as the UK's Digital Economy Bill, (liberally larded with enough Mandyslime to slide easily through any thickets of meaningful parliamentary scrutiny that might still be in place as a General Election looms) makes its rapid way towards almost unchallenged inclusion on the British Statute Book, over in the US the Obama administration has reneged on earlier promises that it would leave the Internet alone and is now intent on controlling it. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
The US Department of Commerce (DoC) is the latest agency to have come up with a splendid wheeze via which to take control of the Web. It's called "Internet Policy 3.0".
Larry Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the DoC (and a close neighbour of the then Senator Obama when he lived in the Hyde Park district of Chicago) says "policy discussions" are to take place between "various federal agencies, key Internet constituencies and foreign governments" covering "substantive issues such as privacy, cybersecurity, copyright protection, Internet governance and child protection".
There's a fine set of mismatched subjects bunched together in an apparently random but far from meaningless and unplanned mass. Makes you feel warm all over doesn't it, to have your government looking out for you on your behalf like that?
No. This is devious and pernicious stuff. The DoC says the results of the discussions will be "flexible" (whatever that means) but "may result" in new regulation and/or legislation. "May result?" You can bet your sweet bippy it will. That much has already been decided.
When running for office, Barack Obama always promised that under his administration the Internet would be free from government control and intrusion. Ah, but that was then, and this is now and Barack's pal Larry says that whilst allowing the Web to grow free from government interference was “the right policy for the United States in the early stages of the Internet and the right message to send to the rest of the world... we take the view that we are now in the third generation of Internet policy making.”
And why? Well, it seems the Internet "is now both a social network as well as a business network" (!) and as such, according to Mr. Strickling, “We must take rules more seriously.” And that means government imposed control, sanction and surveillance of citizens and their Internet usage.
And then there's the bit about including foreign governments in the "discussions". This is possible because the US still retains effective control over changes to and adaptations of the Internet's so-called "root zone" - thanks to the government's "contract" with the Intenet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) headquartered in Los Angeles, California. Strangely enough, as part of his responsibilities Larry Strickling sits on the ICANN panel that reviews changes requested by foreign governments. Wheels within wheels.
You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.
Strickling says Internet Policy 3.0 is necessary because consumers are concerned about the security and privacy of credit card transactions, (don't worry it'll only be your nice Uncle Sam watching you) content providers are worried about copyright and businesses are frightened of hacking and denial of service attacks and network neutrality. So, of course, the government will have to step in and help them.
It's the same over here in the UK. The aforementioned and highly controversial Digital Economy Bill is infamous for a provision requiring ISPs to spy on and monitor their subscriber's Internet habits. In other words they will be forced to mount continual and intrusive yet secret surveillance an their customers, maintain records of all sites visited, emails sent and received and so on and hand them over on demand to any of Britain's ever-expanding network of law enforcement agencies.
Furthermore, and most appalling of all, the Bill, that would see users actually banned from using the web if found guilty of breach of copyright, excessive downloading, the pirating of content etc., turns ancient law and precedent on its head so that rather than any complainant having to prove a consumer's guilt, the individual would have to prove his or her innocence. And given the complexities of the Web and the many ways in which it can be hacked and access and usage can be subverted by those of malign intent, the accused will be on a hiding to nothing in attempting to do so.
And, oh yes and by the way, the government will take over the dot-uk Internet domain registry (for our own good, of course) and give our uber-regulator of telecoms and the media, Ofcom, (already a monstrous creature with far too big a remit) even wider powers.
Much the same sort of thing is happening in France (Sarkozy's "3 Strikes" makes a travesty of legislation and natural justice), Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. And it'll spread and it'll get worse.
An example? Later this year the Internet Governance Forum (a UN initiative that was supposed to be a temporary body examining and reporting back to the General Assembly, on a one-time basis only, on trends in Internet governance worldwide) will become a permanent UN institution.
We all know how responsive and accountable the UN is and it is a matter of fact that, whilst national governments are determinedly pushing to gain dominance over the workings of the IGF, interested parties from the Internet industry, as well as those representing civil society, are being side-lined and excluded from decision making.
What we are witnessing is a determined attempt by democratically-elected governments to pass legislation that will give them, and their successors, power to spy on our data traffic and social networking and to direct Internet "policy" so that the web becomes a neutered, spineless controlled and approved cyberzone dedicated to the promulgation of narrow nationalist interests, political and economic propaganda, big business and non-stop consumerism. Keep the wheel turning. Work harder, earn more money, buy more things, Don't think. Don't worry. We'll keep you safe and we'll entertain you. Bread and circuses. Don't rock the boat. It's for your own good,
That way lies the police state, dictatorship and tyranny - and we're sleepwalking straight into it.
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