The internet is under attack. And it's from our own damn countrymen. In the past week, both the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 (NDAA 2012) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) have taken aim at restricting the thus far unobstructed use of the internet. Not only are these policies an infringement on the civil rights of all internet-using Americans, not only do these laws stifle innovation and business, but they also prevent the people from freely exchanging information.
While the NDAA, a bill aimed at prioritizing the defense budget, has been enacted for nearly 50 years, most of those years were not in the information age. The internet becomes more widespread, with ever-increasing speeds, and social-media tools continue to ease the exchange of information--Arab Spring, anyone? In the face of this, the authors of the NDAA 2012 have decided it is not only in the country's best interest to monitor the exchange of information on American's computers, but also that it should be the government's right to seize and discontinue the use of any computer that's not being used within the expectations of our government. Sounds a bit like an iron-fisted dictator's approach, if you ask me.
The latest defense act is a continuation of the misguided values that were once put into place through the Patriot Act, long since regarded as the greatest infringement on American civil rights in the history of the country. While the bill covers a vast span of issues--national security is a complicated matter, of course--it has dedicated an entire section to what it calls Cybersecurity Matters. Fair enough. I don't want people hacking into any of the computers controlled by our government, nor the most powerful data-hoarding companies in the United States. Keep us and our information safe.
Here's where I don't like the wording: Under the section Capabilities on page 332 of the bill, line 23, the authors write Options for the technical and procedural capabilities to be adopted and improved under the program required by subsection (a) shall include, but not be limited to, capabilities for the following: (1) Disabling the removable media ports of computers, whether physically or electronically...(3) Electronic monitoring and reporting of compliance with policies on downloading of information to removable media, and of attempts to circumvent such policies.
The two cited capabilities are the electronic equivalent of detainment without due process. In an age when a computer and an internet connection are so vital to an individual's right to self-expression, it should be seen as an infringement of an individual's constitutional right to the freedom of speech. If speech can be defined as company pushing money into the account of a politician, it should also be defined as a citizen using the internet to express his beliefs in the absence of money. Of course, there should be limitations to this, as there are with the freedom of speech, but to what extent does the government monitor the daily speech of Americans? Should a citizen--whether a collection or just an individual--be seen as a greater threat to our own society than a money-hoarding conglomerate pushing money into the pockets of the most powerful and influential politicians? I think not.
Similarly, SOPA infringes on the civil rights of internet users. The bill works to expand the ability of authorities and copyright owners to fight illegal trafficking of copyrighted materials on platforms such as BitTorrent. Though the heart of the bill is in the right place--allowing people to get paid for their hard work--SOPA, in reality, will work toward restricting innovation on the internet. Television and music, which are controlled by large conglomerates, will do everything in their power to retain the influence they have over their respective industries, but, unfortunately for them, the internet will disassemble what is an inefficient 21st century business model. The companies have had their run, but now, it's time to create a new model or step aside. Ask any newspaper-owner, bookstore-owner or record-store owner. They've been through the same transition.
The free-flowing exchange of information has been the impetus for disruptions in traditional business models, and in the rapidly changing global economy, disruptions are the only thing that will keep entrepreneurs, and concordantly, America, afloat.
Think of the greatest American brands: There's a good chance the brands that you're able to conjure up are technology brands, and there's also a good a chance that the businesses you think of have disrupted old models of business. Disrupted business models are those that aren't as cost-efficient as companies that are operated mostly over the internet.
Online piracy has been proven to be unbeatable. Digital rights management (DRM) and other Trojan viruses placed on media files in order to prohibit the exchange of media have been stifled and ignored in almost every instance. When Will Wright, creator of The Sims, released his newest game, Spore, through Electronic Arts (EA), there was a massive backlash against the game because it contained DRM on the installation file. The game was truly innovative because it's one of the few with an objective other than kill and destroy. It would have likely performed much better, if it weren't for all the hatred it conjured up from computer-loving gamers. Computer users don't like the computational resources of their machines wasted, and that's exactly what DRM does. Spore, just like any other action taken against piracy and the free-exchange of information, was swiftly hacked and made available without the wasteful DRM. The actions taken by SOPA will prove to be just as wasteful as the DRM hidden on the Spore installation file. For the most innovative engineers and hackers, there's always a way around. Ask any computer-savvy citizen of China.
Both SOPA and NDAA should be seen as an attack against the civil rights of Americans. The exchange of information across the internet should be defined as free speech. While there is, of course, some restriction of every freedom, the government should not waste time, money and resources monitoring the freedoms of Americans--something once detested by citizens against the Patriot Act. Unlawful attacks and actions should always be condemned, but it is not the place of the government to monitor the internet use of every American. That's what seperates us from dictatorships--it always has--and the moment we lose that right is the moment we lose the most important aspect of America's fabric.