The Internet is the last true unregulated outpost of freedom of speech but moves are afoot to stifle, suffocate, control and eventually pull the plug on the world wide web as we know it. These threats are not hidden nor are they hard to deduce and yet a significant number of Internet users remain naive as to their scope.
Despite many questioning the authenticity of a report that claimed ISP's had resolved to restrict the Internet to a TV-like subscription model where users will be forced to pay to visit selected corporate websites by 2012, while others will be blocked, the march towards regulation of the web is clear and documented.
We have been warning about the plan to let the old Internet die and replace it with a restricted and controlled Internet 2 for years. In 2006, we published an article about how the RIAA were attempting to broaden intellectual property distinctions to a point whereby merely linking to external content is judged as copyright infringement.
At the time, the article was met with a mixed response. Many were aware of the imminent dangers that threaten to change the face of the Internet but others were more hostile to the supposition that the world wide web could be devastated by landmark copyright case rulings as well as plans to develop "Internet 2."
Some accused us of yellow journalism and scaremongering yet the warning that the Elektra vs. Barker case could criminalize the very mechanism that characterizes the Internet was not concocted by Alex Jones or Paul Joseph Watson, it was a statement made by the very lawyer fighting the case, Ray Beckerman.
It was a danger also reported on by one of the UK's biggest technology news websites, the Inquirer, which also highlighted the frightening development in an article entitled, RIAA wants the Internet shut down.
The RIAA's argument was that defendant Tenise Barker downloaded music files and made them available for distribution by placing them in a shared folder. Though Barker paid for the files and downloaded them legally, and the files were not copied by anyone, the RIAA's motion states that simply making the files available constitutes copyright infringement.
As Beckerman points out, the entire Internet is nothing more than a giant network of hyperlinks making files 'available' to other people. If we link to CNN.com, we are making the file that constitutes the CNN homepage 'available' to other users. We don't own the copyright to any of CNN's material therefore if the RIAA's argument is accepted, by simply making that CNN file available from our website, even if no one clicks on the link, we are committing a breach of copyright.
This wouldn't be much of a problem to giant transnational corporations, because their websites would remain accessible for everyone. Yet for thousands of political websites and blogs, the plug could be effectively pulled.
After a long legal fight, Elektra vs. Barker was decided largely in Elektra's favor, after a federal judge essentially validated the RIAA's position that having songs available in a KaZaA shared folder violates the distribution right under the Copyright Act.
The example that we cite in discussing what life would be like under "Internet 2" was that running a blog would be like having a You Tube account - any politically sensitive or controversial information that the owners dislike would immediately be removed as it is frequently on You Tube.
In addition, the slide towards a licensed Internet that will be sold using fear of identity and credit card fraud could lead to mandatory biometric thumb or finger scanning simply to access the world wide web.
This is hardly a stretch of the imagination, since numerous public services and functions of society are increasingly accessible only through providing some form of biometric identification. Credit passes for travel, ATM terminals and access to theme parks like Disneyland are just a few of the many services we use that are shifting towards mandatory biometric gatekeeping.
Furthermore, Pay By Touch Online and other companies have already developed and launched keyboard biometric finger scanning terminals that require users to submit their biometric print before they can access the Internet or buy online.
Piggybacking the net neutrality debate, Internet 2 is being shaped to replace the old Internet, which will be allowed to self-destruct as it labors under the pressures of being relegated to slower and slower pipes and users will simply desert a painstaking system.
More than two years ago in an article entitled, The End of the Internet?, The Nation magazine reported,
"The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online."
"Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency. According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets--corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers--would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out."
Internet 2 is being billed as the next generation of the world wide web and it has already set global speed records in terms of data transfer, far outstripping the old Internet.
One of the fathers of the Internet, David Clark, who served as chief protocol architect for the government's internet development initiative in the 1980s, has been given $200,000 by the National Science Foundation to covertly work on a "whole new infrastructure to replace today's global network," according to Wired Magazine.
Clark has vowed to create a "brave new world" in designing the new Internet, characterizing what he wanted for the new network to be "a coherent security architecture."
Dovetailing the onset of Internet 2 are government propaganda campaigns to demonize the existing Internet as a wild backwater for hate crime, child pornography and a terrorist recruiting ground.
Establishment kingpins and their cheerleaders have increased their level of vitriolic rhetoric against the Internet in recent years , as legislation in both the U.S. and Europe to regulate, stifle and license the Internet moves forward.
The White House's own recently de-classified strategy for "winning the war on terror" targets Internet conspiracy theories as a recruiting ground for terrorists and threatens to "diminish" their influence.
In addition, the Pentagon recently announced its effort to infiltrate the Internet and propagandize for the war on terror.
In an October 2006 speech, Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff identified the web as a "terror training camp," through which "disaffected people living in the United States" are developing "radical ideologies and potentially violent skills."
Chertoff pledged to dispatch Homeland Security agents to local police departments in order to aid in the apprehension of domestic terrorists who use the Internet as a political tool.
The European Union, led by former Stalinist and potential future British Prime Minister John Reid, has also vowed to shut down "terrorists" who use the Internet to spread propaganda.
The dangers to the freedom and very existence of the Internet as we know it are all too real and the way to counteract these developments is to get involved and get the word out. Simply burying our heads in the sand and being apathetic and naive about the threat is only going to aid those who wish to see the last outpost of freedom of speech shut off forever.
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