Censorship. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Much ado has been made in the past week concerning legislation pending before both houses of the United States Congress, and with good reason. On February 18, 2012, many websites “went dark” in a protest of this legislation, including this one and my main website www.brianbrown.net.
Google, preferring profits over politics simply placed a black, “redacted” banner over its logo. I thought this was hypocritical, but oh, so typical of Google, who heavily censors its own content, particularly its youtube.com property, for political correctness. I guess they do not want censorship, unless they’re the censor. The reality is that the pending legislation would aim to place a onerous burden on portals such as Google, so it is also a mere matter of financial consideration, not necessarily politics which undoubtedly motivated them.
Attempting to censor, stifle or otherwise regulate the Internet is nothing new. The Government, particularly The People who Control Everything, have long lookedwith contempt and disdain, at the Internet and the ease with which anyone with a computer can post just about anything and everything. One of the prime goals of any Totalitarian-type government is to take control of the press and with the major consolidation of the Media, this just about had occurred. And then the Internet happened and threw the proverbial “monkey wrench” into the works, so to speak. Two earlier notable attempts at regulation were the the Communications Decency Act and the Child Online Protection Act, were both held to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds. I happen to agree with the Court in this instance.
Not unlike many statutes that the Government tries to enact, the purported reason for this legislation was to “protect the children,” a mantra that we hear over and over with issues such as drunk driving laws and seat belt regulation. This allows the Government to “get its foot in the door,” so to speak, insofar as whatever particular minutiae of our lives that they might be trying to encroach upon (see my rant on Incrementalism).
The latest foray into attempting regulation was the recent take-down of the megaupload.com website pursuant to a court order, on the basis of copyright infringement, which is the pretext of the pending legislation. So why new legislation if the Government can simply obtain a court order? That’s a good question. But the Government does not want to be bothered with such trivial matters. They want to be able to just impose their will sua sponte, to use legalese, or or their own spontaneous volition. This reeks of Totalitarianism. Just like they can now imprison a U.S. citizen without any due process whatsoever. That pesky due process anyway. Just gets in the way.
The Government shut down the megaupload.com site the day after the protest, as if to thumb its nose at the protesters (or perhaps raise its index finger). I will venture that it was probably planned for the same day, but the Government, being the Government that it is, just cannot seem to get anything right.
Make no mistake, I am opposed to any form of criminal activity, whether it be in cyberspace or down on the street corner. What I am opposed to is some bureaucrat sitting in an office and being able to simply type a few keystrokes to make an offending website disappear. They may say its for the children; they may claim is to protect intellectual property rights; they may cry its to combat terrorism, but first thing you know a situation will arise when someone, somewhere will complain that something in the website offends them and **POOF** its gone!
Think it can’t happen here? Think again. In Canada, it is a crime, punishable with from two to 14 years in prison to engage in any hate speech against certain “protected” classes such as racial or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or religion. The European Union has similar laws. In Germany it is a crime to make a statement that denies that the Holocaust occurred, or even to merely state that not as many people were killed in Nazi concentration camps the as is generally held. Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, India, Ireland, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Kingdom also all have some form of legislation regulating speech. Click here for the full details on Wikipedia.
The Internet censorship issue is far from dead. If the U.S Congress is unable to pass censorship legislation in its present form(s), that is to say overtly, it will surely do so by stealth, by attaching incremental legislation to otherwise seemingly innocuous legislation (such as a farm aid or an appropriation bill), as it has in the past. Or it might even name it something describing the exact opposite of the intended purpose. There is nothing patriotic about the Patriot Act. Be ever vigilant. Your elected representatives do not have your best interests at heart. They only care about power and the money it brings; they only care about money and the power it brings.
Please understand that I am not one to yell “fire!” in a crowded theater, a poor example that is often cited by free-speech opponents. Likewise I am not personally one to incite any hatred, unless you consider my oft-vented anger at politicians, bureaucrats and the Government. On the other hand, I would defend another person’s right to do so, should they desire. But the politicians and bureaucrats in the Government would like to have the ability to include themselves in that so-called “protected” category. They have already begun the anti-terrorist rhetoric claiming the Internet is being used to incite terrorism, and blah, blah, blah.
Its obvious from looking at the megaupload.com situation that further legislation is not necessary and, if it is not redundant, then it is unnecessary.
So where do you draw the line? The answer is: You don’t! The same is true with the Internet as holds true radio and television or any other type of media. There is always the “off” button. If you do not like something, change the channel; surf somewhere else, but do NOT attempt to tell me what I cannot hear, see and say. I won’t tolerate it and neither will the other geeks in this country. And, mark my words, you do NOT want a bunch of angry geeks!