|By||http://e27.cohttp://e27.sg/2013/01/15/how-free-is-your-internet/||| Jan 15, 2013 | Featured|
If you are reading this, you were either born in the Internet era or have been immersed into it at an early age. We are taught from birth that there are many things in life that we are free to do, that we have a right to do, and nations have been built on these principles. Right to speech, right to choose, right to religion and right to information or knowledge are amongst the basic ones.
The largest provider of information today is the Internet: keeping us up to date, connecting with the world, bringing it closer. Economies are functioning over the Internet. Causes are fought online: fighting for women’s rights (in India), revolts against oppressive regimes (such as the ones we saw in Egypt), and similar events have brought people closer to each other all for a good cause.
The openness and vast expanse of the internet is a huge playground, an online nation, where anybody is able to speak to anybody, share anything, post their views, and learn anything. It is a powerful force that can fuse people’s minds together: startups with investors, consumers with business owners, youth to government policy-makers.
We see a huge amount of resistance in front of us, in which governments want to wrest control over the Internet away from its users. There are a few issues that are being dealt with currently in this regard and we would like to highlight a few key issues in the past year.
Thin Red line, ITU
The Internet is made of vast networks of systems across the world, which enable us to browse for information and exchange communications. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) had planned to enforce a binding global treaty to facilitate international interconnection and interoperability of information. This is supposedly to ensure that it is efficient and has a widespread availability and serves to public.
Sounds nice right? Here is what it can do. These International Telecommunications Regulations, or ITRs will accord control in favor of the governments, and this will be beyond the existing understandings and rules of law on the internet. There are some governments lobbying to get this treaty mandatory so that it can restrict connectivity and shared content, as well as control political activities in the guise of overseeing the “security” of their citizens. These are the very rights that the internet user wants to be protected from. How can one control the very thought process of its citizens.
No doubt, this proposal does have a few positive aspects, such as ensuring better security for financial transactions. But is it worth giving up some of the freedoms and privileges we have grown accustomed to?
Red rule, Real name policy
The “Great Firewall of China” has been at the forefront of online censorship for some years now. From blocking google services and searches to restricting users from connecting with the rest of the world through popular social networks Twitter and Facebook, these restrictions have resulted in the success of homegrown networks like Baidu and Renren. Yes, local brands have thrived. But at what cost? I remember this saying that my father always kept saying “the well is the universe for the frog.”
In a bizarre new twist, China has recently passed legislation that will require Chinese users to use their real identities when signing up for Internet services, such as micro-blogging services or “weibos.” Apparently, officials feel it will protect the identities of its citizens making their internet space healthier, more cultured and safer. I feel this is a good way of helping curb security problems and all, but I don’t think I would be comfortable with this kind of censorship and propaganda.
Red dawn, SOPA and PIPA
We came across SOPA and PIPA, proposed anti-piracy legislations in the U.S. that would make it easier for any copyright holder to request for official court orders against blogs or websites that allegedly infringe their copyright. Erring websites can more easily be taken down without giving the accused a chance to defend his claim. This ruling will render the website as if it were never there, even if you type the correct URL. SOPA can be applied to domestic and foreign websites, whereas PIPA targets only foreign websites. The legislation specifically targets movie and music streaming websites. But the issue here is that even if only one page or user is found to be illegally distributing content, the entire website will be shut down. The SOPA and PIPA received mass opposition from Internet giants, too. Wikipedia kept itself shut down for a day to protest against these proposed laws.
Red support, JOBS act
In 2012 the world saw the most amazing policy in favor of small businesses and startups. The Jumpstart Our Business Startup, or JOBS Act, was passed in U.S. in April that year. In simple terms, the act makes crowdfunding a legal and official way of raising early stage funding for startups in the U.S., this has made platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGogo a monster hit. Unfortunately no other country has made this a clear-cut legal way of fund raising for startups, but I am sure a similar move would be well-received in the Asia Pacific region, given the upsurge in startup businesses, especially in the technology sector.
There are still places in the world where governments are trying to curb the use of the Internet, by blocking it from the world, or just simply turning off access. It can be surprising to first-world kids, who cannot even imagine a day without getting online. After seeing the Egyptian uprising in 2010-2011, and the government blocked online access, many neighboring countries like Syria and Lebanon have tried to do the same. The power of an informed public can turn so strong that countries feel the need to strengthen its grip on the online space.
Apart from these countries, India, too has had a proposal to control and limit the use of Internet and the content being shared. The authorities faced massive revolts and protests against such policies, which were aimed at selective filtering of political news online.
While what is acceptable or not can be a subjective matter, here is the list of countries that enforce, or aim to enforce Internet censorship.
“Enemies” of the Internet
Do you feel comfortable with Internet access policies in your particular country or locale?
About the author
Rohan Kapadia is an entrepreneur, adventurer, expeditionary, amateur barista, and Jugaad specialist. He exited his first start-up, Arkin Comics at the age of 21, before getting a Masters degree from NTU, Singapore and Stanford, USA. He is currently involved in his second startup, LUWAQ – Specialty Coffees. Drop a line to say “hi” on Twitter and Instagram at @rohankapadia or connect on Linkedin.