From SOPA to PIPA, and ACTA to PCIP, the world has been debating legislation on Internet censorship within the past few months… and Texas Representative Lamar S. Smith seems to be behind it all. So much for states’ rights. Smith authored the Stop Online Piracy Act as well as the Protect Children from Internet Pornographers Act, both of which have been hailed as “the new Patriot Act.” SOPA allows courts to grant up to five years jail time for downloading an illegal file (downloading one of Michael Jackson’s songs illegally would get you more jail time than the doctor who killed him), and PCIP gives the federal government the right to your entire browser history. You know, because child pornographers are everywhere.
I don’t know about the rest of us search engine users, but my search records tend to be pretty sketchy. Not necessarily because I look up illegal material (most of the time), but because everything is taken out of context. For example, Googling the phrase, “Why does Lamar Smith hate the Internet?” eventually led me to an eHow article on “How to Become a Dictator.” Totally coincidental (I’m sure), but I’ve still been looking at “suspicious material,” which would put a red flag next to my name.
The problem with bills like SOPA, ACTA, and PIPA is that trying to stop Internet piracy is like trying to stop freight train. True, the Internet can be a scary place: it’s like a combination of a rapist, a murderer, a pedophile, and someone with an obsession with cats. But it’s also somewhat akin to international waters: definitely not under anyone’s jurisdiction. The Internet is a juggernaut that can’t be controlled by one single government, and definitely shouldn’t be.
Who knew that when the FBI shut down Megavideo/Megaupload earlier this year they would meet opposition from the scariest force in the world: a bunch of anti-social loners who take the Internet very seriously. The Internet vigilantism group Anonymous took offense to having the site shut down (many people were mistaking the FBI action as a response for SOPA and PIPA which had been voted down the previous day) despite it being a dispute over fraud and money laundering. Regardless, Anonymous took action by shutting down the FBI website for several hours…likely getting the guy in charge of Internet security fired.
The news spread, and many Internet citizens took up the cause “Black March,” which will boycott purchasing all music and media in March of 2012 to protest the Internet censorship legislation. The argument is that access to torrents and the like are not costing anyone money, but instead being used as advertisement for the product. For example, if someone wasn’t going to buy a ticket to a movie at a theater in the first place, they may watch it online, find they enjoy it, and purchase the DVD. The illegal downloading system isn’t stealing, so much as trying something out.
As we were able to see with the Anonymous/FBI battle, the Internet is just too vengeful of a place to have any hope of controlling it. Perhaps countries with less freedom than America will have success, but rarely is any censorship tolerated in America. There are two essential problems with Internet censorship legislation: the fact that it’s morally wrong, and the fact that the government is never going to be able to get past groups like Anonymous and fully enforce it.
Interested in the counterargument? Check out Feature Editor Grace Hilty’s: https://www.mhsmirador.com/opinion/2012/03/09/should-government-regulate-the-internet-pro/