Monday, March 26, 2012

Fences and Walls 3 - Closing the Digital Commons

A small window of opportunity still exists to protect access to information, freedom of speech and the democratic processes of the World Wide Web.

Congratulations to Google, Facebook and others for refusing to co -operate with authoritarian regimes and not participating in the installation of massive surveillance technology being installed in countries like Syria and Pakistan which aid in pinpointing the location of dissidents, leading to their arrest and sometimes torture and death. Thanks also to Facebook for vowing to take legal action against employers who demand employee 's passwords thus helping to preserve the right to individual privacy. So far too, ACTA, SOPA and PIPA legislation in various countries which were ostensibly about making Internet providers liable for copyright violations but instead lead to continual tracking of all users and content, have been defeated, but don't break out the Champagne just yet.

In the first instance, more unscrupulous companies such as Huawei, Hewlett Packard, Area (Italian), NetApp (American), Qosmos (French), and Utimaco (German) , and to a lesser extent (more by way of default in their equipment to meet EU requirements) Nokia -Siemens, have no qualms about jumping into the breech left by the other companies. This is a great tragedy and we hope anyone who does business with them will stop until until they change their tune. Click Here to stop them. Cisco Systems also continues to help Chinese authorities in their quest to stamp out criticsm and debate. Send them a message Here.

The same technology is also being deployed in Indonesia where a journalist was recently tracked down and beaten for writing about illegal logging. In Vietnam it was used to prevent the environmental impact of a Chinese bauxite mine becoming public, while in Argentina mining companies (Aluminium Corp of China, China Metallurgical Group and the Canadian companies Yamana Gold and Pacific Rim), oil companies (Shell, Addax and Synopec), wood pulp companies (Sinar Mas and Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper) and two French multinationals (Bolloré and Areva) were identified in an independent investigation by Reporters without Borders " as having a direct or indirect role in cases of intimidation or censorship." In Russia, while the Internet appears to be open unlike in China, and is even used to gauge public opinion on certain proposed policy initiatives, this does not stop anonymous thugs carrying out beatings or arrests on those who make any criticism. Free online speech is also under threat in Thailand where the government has arrested a number of bloggers and blocked 777,286 sites. However, none of this is just about far away foreign places which have no understanding of democracy.

In western countries the attacks are more subtle but while SOPA, ACTA and PIPA may be temporarily defeated in the courts due to international public outrage, attempts are underway to secure compliance by other means as in Free Trade Agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which would be set to continue indefinitely once passed, regardless of changing conditions. This time the powers that be are not taking any chances that the public will be able to comment. Not only are  negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors, but in Australia not even the list of attendees is available via Freedom of Information. Meanwhile they are exercising censorship the Chinese way. Not through the courts or any other open and accountable way, but by issuing secret takedown notices and making Internet providers and Telecom companies liable for what is posted on their websites.

The arguments regularly trotted out to justify this invasion of privacy are not only about protection of copyright, but for national security, to prevent criminal activity and to stop kiddie porn and cyber crime. However, we already have legal mechanisms in place which allow monitoring when criminal activity is suspected, without violating the rights of everyone and without stifling public debate. To protect children from adult content we have Net Nanny programs in place in libraries and public access areas which block inappropriate content, though a less desirable effect is that they sometimes inadvertently block helpful sites such as information on breast cancer or breast feeding and there are far more effective ways of catching fraudsters and criminals and preventing bullying and serious abuse. Where is the law enforcement against the kind of Cyber bullying being carried by corporations like Shell against small environmental groups and people such as deep - pocketed millionaire Frank Vander Sloot, against news outlets and bloggers to keep legitimate information from the public?

We know from the emails found on the Heartland Institute website detailing private conversations of a Huffington Post writer, that private interests already have ways of securing information which have nothing to do with national security or criminal activity. There are also abundant examples of abuses such as unfair blacklistings, take down orders, denial of service and other practices in Rebecca Mackinnon’s excellent book Consent of the Networked, or in the Hall of Shame on the Electronic Frontiers Site. What we really need is protection of the public from vested interests and from governments out of control and no longer beholden to the interests of the people whom they are supposed to represent and serve. We have Watergate and the McCarthy era to remind us governments do not always act in our best interests, not to mention commercial interests and other third parties to which private companies, commercial entities (remember News of the World?) and individuals fall prey.  

Powerful as they may seem, it is neither fair or right to have to leave it up to private companies such as Google and Facebook, much less smaller companies to stand up for our rights and defend our freedom, especially when they can be compelled by law to obey. As Rebecca MacKinnon writes in Consent of the Networked, we need a special International Charter protecting Internet Freedom and the Digital Commons in the same way the Magna Carta sought to protect the rights of the people against abuses by sovereigns.

As The Court of Justice in the European Union has ruled in rejecting ACTA 
"... generalized Internet filtering violates the fundamental rights of European citizens including the right to the free flow of information online. Protection of copyright cannot be protected at the expense of the protection of other basic rights such freedom of information and privacy. "
Reporters without Borders also reports that the Court of Justice ruled that such a generalized system of surveillance is not permitted. It said national courts must respect a directive “which prohibits national authorities from adopting measures which would require an ISP to carry out general monitoring of the information that it transmits on its network.”

As I write, the USA is building the largest facility ever for monitoring and recording every keystroke you make, everything you upload, write or say, every time you connect on the Internet, all your phone calls and emails, what searches you undertake, which books and medicines you order and who your friends are. Take a stand now, while you still can.

"There is no freedom without freedom of information. There is no freedom of information without Internet freedom."                     (from the website of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium)

Petitions

Don't let the TPP become the new ACTA


Stop Google tracking your every move Stop the sale of surveillance equipment to Syria
Stop Shell suing NGOs

Protect Internet Freedom
Support those who are presently denied access
Columbia - Page Rights not Copyrights
India Stop Censorship

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