January 18, 2012

Battling Internet Censorship: The Long War

There's a lot of understandable enthusiasm about today's array of anti-SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), anti-PIPA (Protect IP Act) demonstrations and protests.

But there's a real risk as well. When the big home page banners come down, and the site "blackouts" are lifted, the urge for the vast majority of Internet users to return to "business as usual" will be very strong.

Perhaps you've signed an online petition or tried to call your Congressman or Senator today, and you've probably already heard that DNS blocking provisions (at least for the moment, pending "further study") were announced as being pulled from SOPA and PIPA several days ago.

So you might be tempted to assume that the battle is over, the war is won, and that -- as Maxwell Smart used to say -- "Once again the forces of niceness and goodness have triumphed over the forces of evil and rottenness."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the forces arrayed in favor of Internet censorship are not only powerful and well funded, but are in this game for the very long haul indeed. A day of demonstrations to them, as annoying as they may be to these censorship proponents in the very short run, are in the final analysis more like a single human lifetime compared against the centuries.

PIPA is coming up for an important vote shortly, and word is that SOPA will likely reemerge (with its horrific search engine censorship provisions intact) next month.

Even if there are further delays and changes, it is inconceivable that pro-censorship forces, given the depths of their economic beliefs and disdain for Internet free speech, will ever give up.

Like zombies rising repeatedly in an old horror movie, they will keep pouring money into Congress and be continually working on strategies to remake the Internet in their own images.

This may involve SOPA and PIPA. It will likely also involve new legislation down the line that hasn't even yet been introduced, some standalone, some possibly buried in other bills. Censorship arguments will expand to include law enforcement wish lists, "protect the children" arguments, and every other pro-censorship stakeholder wish list that you can imagine.

The battle against Internet censorship is literally a war without end. Pro-censorship alliances will shift and change over time, the names of involved legislation may be different, but the overall thrust will stay essentially the same, and the trend will always be toward more censorship, not less.

All of this is true even if we ignore the possibility of a horrific triggering event like a terrorist attack that enables vast new knee-jerk civil liberties crackdowns.

We must be prepared to battle censorship on the Internet as a matter of our everyday lives. That means a continual presence in Washington and other capitals around the world, not just collectively but in terms of constant long-term campaigns of individually written letters and direct phone calls to our own elected officials -- both among the most effective techniques -- short of suitcases full of cash. Educational campaigns explaining why the battles against Internet censorship are so crucial must continue on our sites, and in our other personal and professional communications as well, every single day.

We cannot be complacent. These efforts to preserve free speech on the Net can never end, or we will all lose one of the Internet's most important wonders, and our civil rights -- both off and on the Internet -- will be snuffed out like a candle in the darkness, with only a waft of digital smoke left behind as a memory of what might have been.

Today's anti-censorship demonstrations were but the first sounding of the bugle, the first loud call to arms.

The war to protect free speech and fight censorship on the Internet is guaranteed to long outlive us all.


Posted by Lauren at January 18, 2012 11:59 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein