Breaking the Internet in the Name of Freedom? Internet Censorship and Domestic Spying in the U.S.

Sensuurimielenosoitus 4.3.2008 (Demonstration ...

Demonstration against Internet censorship in Helsinki, Finland, 2008: Image via Wikipedia

U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet,” by Charlie Savage in The New York Times speaks of Federal law enforcement and national security officials who “are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet” that would enable all Web communication services to be wiretapped. This surveillance bill is being marshaled by the Obama administration—seeking a transparent population ruled by a secretive government.

“The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.”

The government is seeking the following:

  • Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.
  • Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.
  • Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

Censorship of the Internet Takes Center Stage in ‘Online Infringement’ Bill,” by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), critically analyzes the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (COICA) introduced in the U.S. Senate which,

“would allow the Attorney General and the Department of Justice to break the Internet one domain at a time — by requiring domain registrars/registries, ISPs, DNS providers, and others to block Internet users from reaching certain websites. The bill would also create two Internet blacklists. The first is a list of all the websites hit with a censorship court order from the Attorney General. The second, more worrying, blacklist is a list of domain names that the Department of Justice determines — without judicial review — are ‘dedicated to infringing activities’.”

The EFF describes it as a censorship bill, broad in its scope of “infringing activities” and broad in its “solution,” which is to block entire domain names. The U.S. already blocks over 60 foreign websites, as indicated in the previous EE report. The EFF argues that COICA,

“sends the world the message that the United States approves of unilateral Internet censorship. Which governments deny their citizens access to parts of the Internet? For now, it is mostly totalitarian, profoundly anti-democratic regimes that keep their citizens from seeing the whole Internet. With this bill, the United States risks telling countries throughout the world, ‘Unilateral censorship of websites that the government doesn’t like is okay — and this is how you do it’.”

COICA would allow the government “to suppress truthful speech and could block access to a wealth of non-infringing speech,” in the name of protecting copyright, on behalf of an industry that the EFF argues only tried to break the Internet.

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About Maximilian C. Forte

I am a professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. My areas of research and teaching interest are centered in Political Anthropology, with a focus on imperialism, neoliberalism and globalization, nationalism, democracy, and the international political economy of knowledge production.
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