Your internet, your freedom and how it may be at risk

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Internet is facing some serious changes lately; some of them would mean the end of the Internet as we know it. During the last couple of years, there have been negotiations about a multinational agreement called TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). It involves 11 countries including the U.S. Some of the topics in the table include internet access and regulations in a scale never seen before. This agreement will give tools to control the internet access of the users. Tools that will benefit the economies of the countries and companies who are signing the pact.

There is no official information regarding copyright and intellectual property in the TPP pact due to a secret cloud that has been built around the meetings. All the information that has been published came from leaks and a draft proposal that was informed by some agencies. Up until now, the countries participating are: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Some of the facts in leaked documents point to changes that could affect the users by locking users out of their own content and services, forcing ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) to police online activity (imposing fines and shutting down the connections of the infractors), and by giving giant media companies the authority to shut down websites and remove content at will.

One of the characteristics of today’s Internet is the sense of freedom that makes us believe that we can find anything on the web. We just assume that the internet is neutral. In other words, users should be able to use the Internet connections that they pay for without any limitations. This freedom is called Net Neutrality. The concept gives the user the opportunity to choose what search engine to use, what Email manager, what shopping website, and lately it gives us the opportunity to use a storage manager or cloud, to keep our personal information in it. There are a countless number of tasks that can be done at free will in today’s Internet. Could you imagine an internet that tells us what to do? It will be more like a cable company that just gives us access to the package we pay for.

Lately, Big ISP’s had been noticing that other business benefit from the Internet as a marketing platform to get in contact to the Internet users. It is obvious that there can be some profits in it, and with no regulations in the area it is possible for the ISP’s to give a better, faster and safer service to the companies that are willing to pay more to keep the internet as part of their business models. The key word here is broadband. The physical capacity that allowed certain amount of data to be transferred in the web. ISP’s have total control over it; they can regulate who gets a bigger part of the broadband, getting a faster and safer connection. This translates to users as having longer loading times or even some of the websites not loading at all. ISP’s can block access to certain websites at will. This is similar to the way the internet is regulated by some governments.

The word “Takedown” is used when a government or company request a website to not be shown in the search engine results. This is one way how the access to information can be regulated. Another example is blocking; this happens when a government censors the access to a specific website. We have seen some of this techniques being used in countries like North Korea or China, where the government restricts the access to websites that don’t follow their laws or beliefs. In the U.S. this kind of operations have been adopted as a measure to stop primarily copyright infractions, but there have been attempts to make it a general rule. Examples of this are the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) that was introduced to voting in the House of Representatives in November 2011.This bill was postponed because of the protests in the Internet community. Some of the points in this bill were, “the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the websites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the websites” (SOPA).

Lately, there has been news about a multinational agreement called TPP. This agreement is still developing. This month they are celebrating the 16th round of TPP negotiations set in Singapore. Unfortunately, the exact topics negotiated in the TPP are unknown. Meanwhile, some public interest groups have used every possible opportunity to gather information and pass it to policy makers regarding the intellectual property chapter and its impact on digital rights.

Since the early days of the Internet, one of the most amazing capabilities was being able to share and store content, music files, documents, etc. There are copyright laws that protect the Illegal reproduction of content, although there aren’t laws that protect the user from being tracked by companies that gather personal data and information without consent. Moreover, in the tech news we have heard some information that can threaten the internet experience. Companies are taking advantage of the lack of regulation in the Internet by playing the role of gatekeepers. They can slow down, block and even edit information on the web just like in the phone or cable industry. Vinton G. Cerf, Google’s vice president, expressed to the US senate, “Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have been made the internet such a success”(1). This is the risk of the internet user today. Gatekeepers send the information they want us to see, instead of giving the user the option to choose what, how, and in what device they would like to have access to content. This kind of regulation could also affect the way we share information on the Web. We have seen people being sued with criminal charges because they created hosting websites that allowed people to share files, or store copyrighted material.

This is the Internet that we can enjoy today. A free and open place where all kinds of interactions are possible. The internet that gives normal people the opportunity to become celebrities, owners of giant corporations, and where small ideas can become the greatest solution for tomorrow’s problems. Yet, this scenario could change in any moment. Hopefully the next time we try to define internet freedom we can still be able to shout it, post it or tweet it without getting into any trouble.

 

Works Cited

Cerf, Vinton G. Prepared Statement of Vinton G. Cerf Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist Google Inc. U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Hearing on “Network Neutrality” February. 2006. Web.

“Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.

10 Mar 2013 at 14:31. Web. 11 Mar 2013.

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