July 04, 2012

Internet Rights, Internet Wrongs, and Internet War

Today is the day of the year when we in this country especially celebrate the men who less than three centuries ago, meeting largely in secret and often well-plied with various alcohol-endowed beverages, formally laid out the ideas and documents that represent the United States' foundational constructs.

That concepts such as the Bill of Rights have endured through the evolution of the USA from a slave-owning, agrarian culture to the modern world of smartphones and the Internet, both thanks to (and in spite of) the actions of politicians, courts, and others since then, is nothing short of a practical miracle.

Those Founding Fathers could not possibly have imagined the scope of vast changes that were to come -- with the possible exception of Ben Franklin, who could probably be teleported from 1776 to 2012, would take a few days to orient himself, and then would start both websites and dating.

Yet while they couldn't see the future, they did undeniably know human nature. And human nature hasn't really changed at all since the founding of this nation, or likely since the rise of Homo sapiens or even earlier.

It's not as clear that the same can be said for all of us fighting to preserve freedom and other crucial aspects of the Internet.

In fact, it often appears that we show all of the appreciation of human nature, especially regarding the political realm, that one might expect from your average damp sponge.

And make no mistake about it, the forces allied on the other side of these battles are by and large showing vastly more foresight and effective acumen.

Some of what they're doing seems relatively passive. You get the sense that they can't wait for more of us Internet "old-timers" to drop out of the picture, so that our inconvenient quotes will stop appearing in otherwise glowing press accounts of their arguments for turning the Net into more of a policing mechanism than a bastion of free speech.

More critically though, they know how to play the political game. They lobby extensively. They directly fund those politicians who are aligned with designated "Internet control" objectives. And they spend a lot of time laughing at us.

For they realize that when it comes to achieving our goals in a necessarily political sphere, we are rank amateurs, enormously outclassed.

Arguably the best we've come up with to date was the one-day SOPA blackout, which did push back SOPA/PIPA legislative efforts for the time being, but in reality the push to pass such legislation in other forms, including potentially devastating CISPA and other "cyber-scare" profiteering laws, is continuing with renewed force.

And there's only so many times we can pull the blackout trick, like a small child threatening to hold his breath until he gets his way. Such stunts may attract attention the first couple of times -- and even have some impact -- but will be increasingly ignored going forward.

Unfortunately, our efforts seem to be heading toward less effectiveness, rather than more.

The current "Declaration of Internet Freedom" project appears to be mainly a "feel-good" campaign, unlikely to have any significant positive impact, and already is being loudly ridiculed.

What we actually need now, if we are to save the Internet from being morphed from a tool for freedom into a mechanism of restrictions and oppression, is much more akin to a declaration of war than a declaration of freedom.

I don't mean a war of guns and bombs, nor even campaigns of website blackouts or other protests.

I refer to a war played fair and square within the political arena -- a war aimed at helping to elect politicians who understand the Internet and freedom, and who have their brains in the 21st century, instead of the 19th.

A war with the goal of no longer ceding political control of these issues to those parties who very much want to figuratively crush freedom on the Internet under their Testoni dress shoes.

The "weapons" toward our ends in such battles are available, if we are willing to grasp, employ, and deploy them.

Perhaps the most obvious of these, and one that should likely be the focus of immediate attention, is the much maligned Super PAC.

We might despise them, but Super PACs are now a fact of life, and are being utilized to the hilt by forces aligned against Internet freedom and related issues.

For us to ignore the power of Super PACs to affect the political process would be foolhardy in the extreme.

I strongly urge that serious consideration be given to the establishment of a Super PAC to not only lobby in the name of protecting freedom and other rights on the Internet, but to also directly promote the election of politicians with sensible views regarding Internet freedoms, technology, and the intersection of these areas with individuals and society at large.

I understand the reluctance that many techies -- myself included -- have felt toward engaging in any such course directly related to the political process. We have been disappointed many times, and the urge to just utter some expletives and turn our backs is strong indeed.

We must fight this compulsion that would have us avoid the messiness, the pain, the sheer illogic that so often seem to be part and parcel of politics and politicians.

Because if we don't learn to "play the game" the way the big boys do in Washington and other seats of government around the world, we and our ideas will be steamrolled. If we refuse to utilize all legal tools at our disposal to affect the political process in the name of our own goals, we and Internet freedoms will be crushed.

And that would be catastrophic -- for us, for the Internet, for freedom, and ultimately for the entire world.


Posted by Lauren at July 4, 2012 10:01 AM | Permalink
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