American Censorship Day, Tell Congress that You Don’t Want the Internet Censored!

Today is the ad hoc American Censorship Day. Why? A committee in the House of Representatives has stacked their deck of experts 5 to 1 in favor of the SOPA, Stop Online Piracy Act. Even though this law could radically change the way the Internet works in the US (so that it can be restricted in the same way that it is restricted in China, Iran, and Syria), many congressional members support this law and they do not want public dissenting voices to be heard during committee. Techdirt has coverage of the hearing today here.

SOPA and Protect-IP are intended to put the thumbscrews on online discussion, fair use, and entrepreneurship. This infographic explains the potential effects of the bill if made law.

This is another example of our elected officials catering to outmoded big business. Big media wants to consolidate its control over the Internet, because those companies are unwilling to adjust their business models to the here-and-now. Instead, they want to flex their money-muscle and reconfigure the Internet so that they remain on top. I suppose this is the logic of capital. Increased regulation helps diversify the market, which leads to benefits for consumers. Conglomerates and virtual monopolies do not want this. Instead, they want to solidify their own position by hijacking the democratic process and putting laws in place that not only gives them added control over the primary medium of discourse but also further criminalizes previously non-criminal acts.

Go to the American Censorship Day website here, and send an email (or even better–call them!) letting your representatives know that you are against SOPA/Protect-IP.

DRM Graveyard on Opensource.com, Content Consumers Demand Less Restrictions and More Respect

Ruth Suehle constructed a fantastic DRM graveyard: A brief history of digital rights management in music.

Digital rights management or DRM is a method for controlling access to various digital media including music, movies, and software. The “rights” being managed are those of content creators to a lesser extent and of content distributors to a greater extent. As Suehle’s timeline demonstrates, DRM systems often bite the dust, because users overwhelmingly demand their own rights to purchased media. One of the most important rights is transferability, or using media on a digital device or computer of one’s choosing. The trouble with many DRM systems is that transferability is difficult or impossible, because content controllers and distributors begin with the tacit assumption that all content consumers are not to be trusted. The assumption that most DRM systems are based on is that users will “steal” content or use purchased content in was unintended by the creators or distributors. This lack of respect and too much trouble imposed by most DRM systems lead consumers to find new channels for content distribution that are less restricting and more respectful.

TechCrunch Explains the Big Problems with PROTECT-IP

Now that the terribly draconian and Internet-breaking PROTECT-IP bill has made its way to the floor of the House, TechCrunch offers an explanation of the real problems with the bill here: Kill Switch. If you care about an open Internet, you should share the link to TC’s story with others. If you aren’t sure what this all means, it only takes a few minutes to scan TC’s article. If you want a broken Internet that gives corporations unfettered control over what is said and posted online, perhaps you should leave the Internet to us adults and go some time here.

PROTECT-IP Is Now E-PARASITE Bill, Made Worse for US Citizens Thanks to Business-Beholden Congress

There’s another reason why folks are fightin’ mad (at least in a non-violent, occupy wall street sort of way) at big business’ collusion with government: the PROTECT IP/E-PARASITE bill. If you thought the DMCA was bad, you really ought to check out what our Congress have in store for the little person and their ability to use the Internet.

In another leap away from reasonable accommodations for citizens’ rights to fair use and measured legal interventions in the way media businesses can enforce their rights over copyright infringers, the US Senate and House are competing with one another to make the best pro-big media bill ever.

The new bill extends the enforcement of law to overseas entities, which would lead to censorship of sites abroad for American eyes. It nukes DMCA safe harbors and methods of intervention to the law. It will give too much power to an industry to regulate what can and cannot be seen and accessed online. And, it takes the court out of the process of claims alleged by big business against supposedly infringing websites. Therefore, it is a form of censorship by governmental fiat and business enforcement.

Of course, supporters of the bill claim that it will only be used against truly infringing websites. As we have seen since the passage of the DMCA, prosecutions follow the letter and not the spirit of the law. Also since that time, we have seen businesses repeatedly use DMCA takedown notices to intimidate individuals employing the fair use doctrine to give up on their rights.

I’m not sure what can be done to fight this. Obviously, politicians are in the pockets of big business and big media regardless of whether they want to or not, especially since the Citizens United v FEC ruling of the Supreme Court. I have used the forms on FightTheFuture here to send letters to my congressional members from Ohio, but the Ohioans sent me form letters saying they were essentially behind the bill. However, there is something to be said about some big businesses not liking the possible new law: Google’s Eric Schmidt vows to fight it even if it becomes law. That something is that the future might be fought by corporations and we get to deal with the consequences.

Read more on Slashdot here, Arstechnica here, and Techdirt here.

Another Example of US Govt Abuse of Power: Trying to Extradite a British Citizen for Linking to Online Content

According to a feature story on Ars Technica, the US government via its Immigration and Customs Enforcement is attempting to extradite Richard O’Dwyer, a British student with no ties to the US, from Britain to the US for linking to movies and TV shows available online:

In May, American law enforcement officials opened up yet another front in this war by seeking the extradition of Richard ODwyer. The 23-year-old British college student is currently working on his BS in interactive media and animation. Until last year, he ran a “link site” that helped users find free movies and TV shows, many of them infringing. American officials want to try him on charges of criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy.

via Big Contents latest antipiracy weapon: extradition.

I believe that this is an egregious abuse of US resources to target an individual who has not committed a crime warranting such an action by the US government. Extradition to the US for an individual who has no obvious ties and who has not committed an atrocious crime should be subjected to this kind of strong arm tactics.

Furthermore, the British government should defend O’Dwyer from extradition, because he has not violated any laws by the US government. Essentially, the US government is attempting to hold citizens around the world to its laws. What would happen if US citizens were held to the laws of more restrictive regimes and their laws? Would the US want its citizens extradited? Would the US allow its citizens to be extradited for transgressing a law in another country that it deemed too harsh? I don’t think so. Britain should likewise hold its own against the US government’s actions on the behalf of its apparent masters: big business and big media.

If we want to talk about balancing budgets and reducing government overhead, I believe that we can start by not putting government resources to work for the entertainment industry. If the entertainment industry wants to pursue legal action again O’Dwyer, that’s their prerogative. Personally, I don’t want my government wasting resources by going after individuals in foreign countries with different laws for linking to online content. This is a matter of foreign sovereignty as well as governmental resource allocation. Our government shouldn’t chase game on the behalf of big business.

Chicago States Attorney Lets Bad Cops Slide, Prosecutes Citizens Who Record Them

Radley Balko write on The Huffington Post about recent cases in Illinois of prosecutors going after citizens who record their interactions with the police. Apparently, Illinois law takes a hard line on recording the conversations of others, especially police officers. You would think that a state with such a seedy past of graft and corruption would fight back against that with laws that empower people to make recordings when there is not a reasonable right to privacy.

Balko writes about the importance of empowering people with recorders:

The ACLU of Illinois is also challenging the law. But in January, U.S. District Court Judge Suzanne B. Conlon ruled against the organization. Conlon wrote that the First Amendment does not protect citizens who record the police. The ACLU has appealed and expects to participate in oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit sometime in the fall.

In a report released just this month, the United Nations noted the importance of Internet access and personal technology in facilitating the recent Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East. Technology has given citizens all over the world a remarkable and historic tool to bring transparency to the most brutal and oppressive governments.

But even as Americans have criticized those countries for attempting to prevent protesters from uploading photo, video, blog posts and Twitter accounts of government crackdowns, government officials in the U.S. are still arresting, threatening, intimidating and harassing Americans who attempt to document police abuse in America. See this example over Memorial Day in Miami.

No, America isnt Egypt or Yemen or Iran. But while the scale of the suppression is different, the premise is the same: When a citizen and a police officer have a confrontation, the police officers narrative has always given deference by prosecutors, judges and juries — in the same way governments in more oppressive parts of the world have the power to project their own version of events as truth.

Citizens in America and across the globe now have the ability to preserve and present a more objective narrative. This is a positive thing — for democracy, for good government and for a fairer criminal justice system. U.S. courts and legislatures need to make it abundantly, unambiguously clear that not only do citizens have the right to record on-duty police officers, but that cops and prosecutors who violate that right will be held accountable.

via Chicago States Attorney Lets Bad Cops Slide, Prosecutes Citizens Who Record Them.

I agree with Balko completely. Public workers, especially those with power over individuals such as the police. I also believe that judges should not be exempt from recording when there is no court reporter present. These are not private conversations taking place between individuals. These are conversations taking place within a network of power relationships with the recorders traditionally and substantially disadvantaged as compared to the recorded party.

Dystopias often have a technological bent where recording technologies give the hegemony power over its subjects. The people of Illinois should demand transparency and protection of its people from overzealous prosecutors and police who wish to deprive citizens of what should be a fundamental right to protect one’s self through recording technologies. Otherwise, our loss of this protection afforded by personal and affordable technology will only be a further erosion of our rights where the system is stacked in favor of the authorities.

A UN Report Slams Democratic Countries for So-Called Three Strike Laws That Cut Access to the Internet for Supposed Copyright Violators

Ars Technica provides commentary on a recent UN report that comes down hard on democratic countries such as France and Britain that have punitive laws against online file sharers. These so-called Three Strikes provisions permanently cut an offender off from the Internet as a result of violating those nation’s copyright laws. The UN report calls these laws excessive. Read more here. Read the UN report as a PDF here.

PROTECT-IP Leaves Committee, Put on Hold by Senator Wyden, Filtering DNS Amounts to Censorship

According to the findings of an insightful report by DNS experts [here] and a feature article on Ars Technica:

Senator Ron Wyden D-OR has called the PROTECT IP Act “a threat to our economic future and to our international objectives.” He characterized its predecessor as a “bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile.” The bill would force Domain Name System DNS operators to stop correctly resolving the names of so-called “rogues sites.”

Is this sort of monkeying with the DNS a problem? Yes, say DNS experts in a new report PDF on the practice. In their view, DNS filtering provisions would make the Web less secure—and do little to stop illegal filesharing sites.

via DNS filtering: absolutely the wrong way to defend copyrights.

Earlier today, the Protect-IP act left committee, but Senator Wyden was able to halt its progression before going to the floor of the Senate for a vote. He is correct that the language of Protect-IP would be a too broad approach to protecting intellectual property online. However, the enforcement of this bill should it become law would amount to censorship and still not prevent the kind of illegal distribution of intellectual property that it attempts to curtail.

I have commented on this law before here, and I still think that this is the kind of messy, power-crazy legislation that needs to be stopped dead in its tracks. I am all for the upholding of sensible copyright, but I am against Big Media’s attempts to short circuit the law in their favor.

We, meaning people, need to assert our rights to culture and our rights to freedom of speech online. The Protect-IP act could circumvent both of these things by assigning the decision making process of what constitutes a fair and legal voice outside the bounds of due process AND taking away our right to judge for ourselves what is fair and legal.

As the report linked above argues and Ars Technica discusses, the law’s effect on DNS filtering would be easily circumvented, but the fact is that we should not be making laws that further reduce online communication that would be need circumvention if the law is not equally or fairly applied. If this bill passes, circumvention itself could be further criminalized. Additional criminalization is the not the answer either. This could turn into a stepping stone in that direction if we do not demand that these attempts at death of citizens’ rights by a thousand cuts is not halted.

Supreme Court Trounces Fourth Amendment, Gives Police New Powers to Enter Home Without Warrant

According to the Los Angeles Times here, the Supreme Court has established broad new rules that gives police additional ways to enter a person’s home without a search warrant. Now, police may enter a person’s premises if the police officers believe that evidence is being destroyed (as evidenced by the sound of movement behind the door for example).

I believe that this interpretation of law will result in its overuse and exploitation by overzealous police officers. In effect, the Supreme Court majority has enabled the police to trample on our fundamental 4th Amendment protections. With increasing attempts at criminalization of more acts, I believe that this is the beginning of what will be recognized as unfair application of this ruling to the detriment of the American people.

I suspect that some police will find new and inventive ways to exploit this new rule. In drug cases, the theory is that suspects will make sounds such as flushing their drugs down the toilet. What about other crimes? What sounds will constitute the destruction of evidence? That isn’t really the issue. The case ruled that the police need only believe that the destruction of evidence is taking place. Any reason on the part of the police officers could be considered lawful reason for entry based on this ruling. Could the tapping of keys on a keyboard be the destruction of evidence? Could walking to the door to give the officers entrance be construed as the destruction of evidence? Could the mere suspicion that a suspect is in a given home be enough reason? Yes to all of these things. Furthermore, evidence obtained in such an entry for other crimes not specifically sought by the police can and will be used against the persons who live in the entered home.

I fear that police will begin finding ways to circumvent the Fourth Amendment much like Uncle Jimbo does to circumvent hunting laws in this South Park episode.