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

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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