Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Great Firewall of... America?

Milton Mueller writes on The Internet Governance Project Blog:

Frustrated with the contradiction between the limits of jurisdictional authority and the Internet’s globalized access to information, more and more governments are instituting measures to block access to web sites which are deemed illegal in their territory but are located outside their jurisdiction. A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Monday would start to put into place an infrastructure for maintaining a black list of censored domain names. The purpose is not political censorship but blocking in the name of copyright and brand protection. The proposed bill is called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). It’s a radical change in internet policy masquerading as a strengthening of copyright enforcement

Keep in mind those words “block access... in their territory.” In debating this issue, we must never lose sight of the fact that COICA and similar measures are not designed to identify and catch the perpetrators of crimes or even, primarily, to take down the illegal web site or content. No, they are designed to prevent ordinary users of the internet from being able to connect to or transact with the infringing sites. In other words, they substitute regulation of the general public’s internet access for prosecution of crimes committed by specific people in specific locations.

That’s why it is not unfair to call it “censorship” – it manages and restricts what all of us can see instead of pursuing and catching the law-breakers. This trade off is becoming increasingly common around the world, and it is a huge mistake. The effect is to re-territorialize communications access; as such it strikes serious blows against the great social, economic and political advances created by the globalization of communications access and the ability to “innovate without permission” that went along with it. If the Internet as a global system sustains collateral damage, well, the copyright interests don’t care, and as long as that powerful lobby is satisfied, neither do the legislators. The process of carving up the Net into 200 separate fiefdoms is well underway, and now, alas, the U.S. is joining in on it.

More here.


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