May 11, 2011

"Free Speech Be Damned!": Congressional Bill Would Censor Search Engines

In my Censorship, Governments, and Flagellating Google white paper that I released a week ago, I based part of my analysis on statements by U.S. politicians, last year's attempt at horrible COICA (Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act) legislation, and various events occurring in other countries around the world.

I had hoped we would have some time to discuss and prepare for major new censorship threats before any related U.S. legislation had crystallized.

Unfortunately, it appears that Congress' "hell bent to censor" effort is already in high gear, as word (and now complete text) of a proposed PROTECT IP Act have leaked out.

While it could be argued that PROTECT IP (another one of those warped acronyms that I won't even bother to expand here) seems on its face to improve on certain aspects of COICA, most of those changes appear to be illusionary when viewing PROTECT IP as a whole.

And in a concept taken straight from the Orwellian playbooks of dictatorships throughout history, PROTECT IP contemplates the direct censorship of Google and other search engines, to excise search result entries that the government prefers that you not see. Terrible on its face, and obviously the proverbial slippery slope right down the side of Mt. Everest.

An alternative DNS - Domain Name System (more properly, an alternative naming/identifier system for Internet sites not subject to centralized control), whether IDONS or something else entirely, would certainly be a major step in the right direction toward helping to limit censorship via domain name control.

However, it's important to note that PROTECT IP appears to propose outright and direct censorship of Google (and other search engine) results, that could be implemented via a wide range of criteria not necessarily tightly bound to IP addresses or even specific common names or identifiers.

The sorts of search engine results censorship that PROTECT IP advocates would be a direct attack on freedom of speech and the First Amendment -- direct government interference. And in the vast majority of related cases, there wouldn't even be any "public safety" aspects that could be invoked ... unless illicit downloads of Nude Nuns with Big Guns have somehow become a major national security concern.

One might hope that U.S. courts -- at least -- would block egregious efforts to flog and censor search engines, and other Internet services, via such outrageous government decimation of basic civil and free speech rights.

But in today's exceedingly toxic political environment, making any such assumptions might be very risky -- particularly given the big money intellectual property interests who seemingly believe that their music and film properties are worth turning the Internet into a virtual police state. Funny how that works, huh?

Search engines are the key gateways to information and knowledge discovery on the Internet, and so for the entire planet and its vast population. The ability of Google and other search engines to display search results free from government interference is absolutely crucial.

That Congress is even contemplating such legislation that would censor search engine results is an utter disgrace to them and to basic American values.

This must not be tolerated. The battle for freedom of knowledge is now truly and most righteously joined.


Posted by Lauren at May 11, 2011 10:43 AM | Permalink
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