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Internet Censorship and Privacy

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The twenty first century has witnessed a lot of advancements in about all aspects of the modern day life. Technological advancements have especially impacted on people’s lives in many areas economically, socially as well as psychologically. Consequently, many people have been affected differently either positively or negatively. Positively, these advancements have aided in making people’s lives easier. Economically, businesses have boomed as the new communication devices have aided entrepreneurs to conduct business faster and efficiently. Governments have also benefitted a lot from the technology as industries have become more efficient, whereby innovative machineries have aided to shorten the production and distribution processes. Socially, many people have become able to communicate instantly with each other no matter of the geographical distance, leading to the more societal and familial cohesion.

However, as is consistent with the new untested things, these advancements also have arrived with various adverse effects on the society. For instance, Edwards (1-10) the internet has opened up children to all sorts of perversions especially with the regards to pornographic content. This has led to a rise in many sexual predators targeting small children. Furthermore, cybercrimes and the online piracy have affected many online businesses negatively. These negative effects are not restricted to the communication technology only.

As it is evident in the today’s world, more people are dying because of road and industrial accidents. Global warming, precipitated by harmful air pollutants from transport vessels such as airplanes, is also on the verge of destroying the world if not well checked. These negative effects have brought about many debates and discussions on the need to maintain privacy and restrictions to various kinds of information that may be harmful to the general public. 

Internet Censorship and Privacy. Generally, censorship involves the suppression or control of information or ideas circulated to the public that may be harmful or sensitive. Internet censorship, therefore, involves the suppression or control of information that is accessible through the internet. As such, it can be carried out by individuals, private organizations and mainly by governments for various reasons. Censorship is carried out due to various negative effects experienced when the harmful or sensitive information is availed to all and sundry. The repercussions may be moral, economic, religious, political or even legal. Mostly, these are the governments that carry out various censorship measures especially when they anticipate a trouble in terms of simmering public protests and demonstrations.

In a bid to stem the occurrences of vices and crimes through the internet, many measures have been put in place by governments to address the issues. This has mostly been affected in terms of the development of software programs that enable internet service providers to censure or restrict the information. Varied hardware devices have also been utilized to enable that the various pieces of information do not reach various kinds of consumers. Governments have also been involved in many conferences where they have come up with effective solutions to these problems by drawing up policies that address the use of internet and the associated issues. The Protect IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are two government policies introduced in the United States to protect online businesses from online crimes with an emphasis on piracy.

An Overview of Protect IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Generally, the bills are in line with an existing copyright and trademark laws. They primarily assert that if any websites are seen to facilitate, engage or enable infringing activities such as the distribution of counterfeit or illegal copies of information or digital rights, they are liable to a legal action. The legislations seek to enforce the copyright infringement laws against a rogue website which sometimes are registered in different countries not necessarily America. If passed, the criminal justice system will have the right to issue some court orders to various online businesses such as internet service providers as well as individuals for prosecution. The courts will work with the financial transaction providers in a bid to halt processing of transactions conducted via the internet if a website is alleged to enable the infringement of copyright laws.

Protect IP Act (PIPA). The Protect IP Act is a legislation that was revised from an earlier legislation known as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) which was presented and rejected by the United States’ lawmakers in 2010. The Protect IP Act was introduced to the U.S. Senate by three senators including the senator from Vermont Patrick Leahy on 12 May 2011. When the act is passed, the United States government and American corporations will have the power to seek a legal redress from the firms with websites that will be seen to enable and promote the copyright infringement. It will not matter if the firms involved in promoting the copyright infringement will be of the American origin or not.

Jamal (4-7) asserts that the United States government and American corporations will acquire more power including: the ability to seek the legal action by suing search engines such as Yahoo, directories, blog sites, or any websites, in general. As such, they will also be subject to being blacklisted and removed from the companies’ websites. Additionally, they will be able to force the U.S. internet service providers to block an access to websites considered to enable and promote the copyright infringement. They will also be able to force advertising agencies and companies with infringing websites or other firms supporting them to remove them or close their advertising accounts. Lastly, business firms will also have the power to sue any new websites (deemed to enable and promote the copyright infringement) established after the bill is passed. Therefore, passing the bill will enable to prevent the infringement of the one’s website.

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Like the Protect IP Act, the Stop Online Piracy Act is as a result of another legislation known as the PRO-IP Act drafted in 2008 but also rejected. According to Carranza (9-10) the Stop Online Piracy Act was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on 26 October 2011 by a Congressman Lamar Smith of the twenty first district of Texas. The act will work in a conjunction with the Protect IP Act as they advocate for almost the same things. If passed, it will also allow the United States’ government and the American corporations to seek the legal action from firms with websites deemed to enable the copyright infringement.

Specifically, the U.S. Attorney General will be able to issue a court order forcing advertisers, search engines, internet servers, DNS providers and payment processors from having any contact with websites claimed to be promoting the copyright infringement. It goes without saying that private businesses may use this act as a way of punishing other businesses that break their copyright policies. They will be able to directly contact the website’s payment processors and issue a notice to cut off all the payments involvement with the targeted websites. There will be a period of five days to allow the alleged websites to act or respond before payments are simply stopped. In essence, payment processors will have the power to cut off any website they are working with, as long as they can provide a strong reason of why they believe the website is violating copyrights. The two bills have achieved a lot of support from various quarters especially by many businesses in the economic sector.

PIPA and SOPA Legislations: Support and Propositions. Many companies including especially those that deal in selling the computer software, online songs and videos have supported these legislations. Equally, other companies especially the social sites such as Yahoo and Facebook have opposed to these legislations. Additionally, in the mid of January there were massive protests against the bills through the posts in the various social sites such as Twitter and Facebook. This was touted as quite a wake up call for the United States’ legislation as the bills were condemned in a massive wave of the online activism. The bills are touted as not good for small businesses as giant corporations are bound to kill the competition by suing small companies even on false accusations. The bills do not adequately address how businesses can be protected from false accusations. If the websites are blocked and blacklisted on the basis of false accusations, which are later found to be untrue, the companies will suffer, what with a dynamic use of internet. Newman (1-13) indicates the massive opposition that the bills encountered whereby there were lots of blackouts by many websites as they demonstrated their opposition to the bills. Many people, therefore, could not access these sites.

Probable Effects.  The proposed changes were based on blocking the Domain Name System (DNS) which enables users to view the content from websites. The process will work in a way that the DNS system is going to be blocked and then redirected such that a person surfing that website does now find any content of that website. As such, this would ensure that many people are not able to access the important information necessary for many daily functions. This may also lead to the corruption of DNS systems globally leading to a halt in the functionality of the internet which is formed by these systems. This will also lead to the restriction of information from outside the United States as the American citizens will only be able to access few websites outside the country. This is because the DNS blocking and redirection will facilitate changes proposing the use of URLs restricted to the legitimate American information sources. Cheredar (8-13) adds that other potential negative effects involve people’s online security and privacy and generally the freedom of expression.

Privacy, Security and Freedom of Expression Issues. The proposed effects on the security is that blocking of various websites will encourage many to resort to hackers so as to enable them to access the closed websites. In effect, this will invite illegal probes by many hackers who feel wronged by the government potentially leading to other breaches especially on the security. The users may also be redirected to dangerous websites that may lead them to being defrauded by hackers. Since the prosecution of the rogue websites may proceed even without the particular owners being present, this presents an infringement on the freedom of speech. This lack of a due process where the rogue websites are not afforded the fair hearing reflects curtailing of basic freedoms. It is feared that the legislations will provide the government with a weapon which it would use as a basis for various illegal actions such as blocking the important internet-debate platform websites that rightly criticize the government. China and the Internet (1-7) highlight this fear, which seems to be well-informed, where China introduced internet censorship and ended up curtailing the people’s access to information and freedom of speech.

Therefore, the government’s involvement in drafting and supporting the bills is being viewed by public as the government’s way of amassing more power against the public. Private online businesses may also use legislations as a way of blocking personal web blogs used to disseminate the information to many people. This will be abridgement of freedom for the personal privacy as this will lead to a trend where the information will be quashed before it has reached many people. In effect, this situation will end up curtailing personal freedoms of expression as many will not be able to communicate with others on the issues that affect them. These issues not only show the government’s wrongs but also enable people to debate on important national issues.

CONCLUSION

On a positive note, many businesses will benefit from these bills what with the current rise in the piracy of online content. Potter (1-3) agrees that online piracy especially in music and videos will be dealt a blow and the businesses will earn their full revenues that are usually directed to piracy. However, as demonstrated above, the potential for abuse of powers given to the government and corporations is too high. The legislations open the public to abuse by the government. The bills also represent the basis for establishing other legislations that will end up curtailing the people’s freedom of expression, absence of security and the infringement of privacy. Many people aver that the legislations are well-intentioned but are too ambiguous and imprecise. Therefore, the change in the terms used in legislations and the consideration of potential effects should inform on the legislators’ decisions and drafting the legislations. 

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