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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Raucous Internet

For John, BLUFThere are those who would limit and control the Internet, and its child, the Blogosphere, but it would be bad for Democracy.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

Saturday evening I had a short discussion with a friend over the Blogosphere.  He was of the opinion that the Blogosphere needed to be controlled in some way.  Yesterday on Lowell's local access TV show, City Life, City Councilor Bill Martin compared Blogs unfavorably with the newspapers.  His point was that there is all that anonymity on the Blogs, but not in the newspapers.  This AM, on City Life, Host George Anthes brought up to his guests the question of Regina Faticanti and Lynne Lupien and Tim Cahill and the criminalization of political speech.  As a result, Deb Forgione called in and brought up the fact that there is a difference between those threats that are life threatening ("should be hung") and those that are physical language ("break the arms we need to break").

Regarding the Councilor Martin suggestion that anonymity is a problem on the Blogs, but not with newspapers, it misses the whole point that politicians and bureaucrats are leaking information, "on background", to newspapers all the time.  An example of non-attribution that obscures part of the story is the fact that "Deep Throat" in the Watergate Scandal was a disgruntled office seeker, unhappy with the President for passing him over for Director of the FBI.  I believe that newspapers are no more clean and pure than the Blogs.  The distinction is that the Blogs are new and they exist in large numbers.  Further, with the Blogs there are a larger number of viewpoints.

As for Deb Forgione's point, I wonder, from the hearer's point of view, if it is a distinction without a difference.  Once someone feels physically threatened the perceived pain exists.  I would suggest that if we graphed it out, the line would rise quickly and then pretty much flatten out, starting with the suggestion that "I will slap you" to "slap you silly" to "punch you" to "break your arm" to "have your head on a platter" to "kill you".

As has been noted here and also here and by Law School Graduate Renee Aste here and by Lynne Lupien here, a lot of invective is protected speech.

As a believer in American Constitutional principles I am concerned about moves that would limit Free Speech.  Yes, I do believe in being polite and respectful, but not everyone is as finicky as I am.  But, if we lose our right to Free Speech it is over for us as a Democracy.

At this time representatives of 193 countries are meeting in Dubai to discuss the Internet and what, if any, controls individual nations and international agencies should have over it.  I worry about such talks, as there are nations that would like to control or throttle the Internet in the interest of stability.

Fortunately, our Ambassador to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), Terry Kramer, understands the importance of keeping the Internet free and growing.  As this BBC article notes, "the US has said some of the proposals being put forward by other countries are 'alarming'."  Per Ambassador Kramer:

There have been proposals that have suggested that the ITU should enter the internet governance business.

There have been active recommendations that there be an invasive approach of governments in managing the internet, in managing the content that goes via the internet, what people are looking at, what they're saying.

These fundamentally violate everything that we believe in in terms of democracy and opportunities for individuals, and we're going to vigorously oppose any proposals of that nature.

To go "on background", here is an overview of the current state of play in the negotiations, provided by an unnamed Professor with experience in National Security Law:
There are several competing national agendas at play in the Dubai talks, as follows:
  1. Russia and China want to place the Internet under intergovernmental (i.e., UN) control with prior restrictions on access and use.  They are supported by other regimes with a similar domestic interest in controlling Internet content and traffic.  They are supported by the usual gallery of rogues.  This particular proposal will make a lot of noise in the blogosphere, but its essentially dead on arrival (see point 4 below).
  2. Some European nations (and to a lesser extent Latin American ones) want to be able to charge fees on certain kinds of connectivity in order to underwrite the cost of running Internet infrastructure, much as they once did (and in some cases still do) with international telephone service.  This proposal is up for debate, but there's also a lot of concern in the United States, Asia, and many European countries about killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
  3. Developing nations—especially in Africa—are interested in using the treaty to find ways of financing and improving their own internet connectivity.  They are essentially the swing votes in talks on the other two issues:  my sense is they'll accept language that doesn't necessarily thrill them if the treaty helps bootstrap their efforts to get more people and institutions online.
  4. The United States and a host of other high-tech or high Internet-usage countries (including many in Northern Europe and the Anglosphere) are dead set on any sort of intergovernmental regulation (see point 1 above) that would place prior intergovernmental restrictions on Internet content and traffic.  Their view is that the Internet should be run as it is now: by non-governmental networks with national law setting local standards of usage.
My recommendation would be to avoid confusing proposals with laws, let alone rhetoric with capability.  The United States and others are participating openly and politely because this treaty needs some updating.  But prior intergovernmental restraints on content are going to be a show stopper for Uncle Sam & Co. on legal, policy, economic, strategic, and even human rights grounds.  And that would be the same regardless of which party holds the White House.
"Eternal Vigilance is the price of Liberty", per our third President, Thomas Jefferson.  That vigilance is facilitated by a free and open Internet.

George Anthes is right to be concerned about the criminalization of political speech and we should all be concerned about efforts to control the blogosphere and the internet.

Regards  —  Cliff


Jack Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Neal said...

I think that while the general concern and focus in this post is about the "blogosphere" and of course, 1st Amendment rights, the UN treaty under consideration and with considerable international support is much more pernicious in its impact. What is at stake is the free, unfettered access to information without a government or government influenced filter.

The internet provides the means by which "the rest of the story" and in fact, perhaps a completely different story can be accessed. Given the American media proclivity for being a lapdog for the Democratic party, and particularly the WH, what information is passed to the great unwashed is "tailored" for public consumption.

This by the way is not to suggest that the Democrats are advocating "original repression." They aren't that cunning, and history beat them to it anyway.

The Guttenberg press was hailed as a technological wonder and opened up the vista for mass printed publication of all sorts of information. It one might imagine....the birth of a gazillion dollar publishing industry.....and the means by which one soul can communicate his or her thoughts to the masses...should they want to consume those thoughts.

Over time however, governing authorities (primarily at the time...the Church) began to see the printed word as providing too much information and much of it the "wrong" kind..depending on whose defining "wrong." Thus, the Church and eventually many governments began a campaign to suppress and restrict books and other printed matter as being "damaging to the public good."

The same thing is now happening with the Internet. Too many folks out there spreading "blasphemy" and other "uninformed" positions on matters of "importance" to those in power. The best way to control it is to control the means by which the information can be accessed. If you can just control it a little bit you can reduce the number of folks getting the "wrong" kind of information.

So what is at stake here is simply access to information....and those who want to control or minimize it for their own purposes.

In that sense, it is a much greater threat to American freedom than any other contemplated by either our own Congress or by the UN.

C R Krieger said...

I have a fairly tolerant view of comments on this Blog, except for SPAM.  Sometimes people are on the edge and I accept that to allow the conversation to continue.  I guess I use Ann Althouse's Blog as my gauge.  That said, a comment by Jack Mitchell, since deleted from this particular post, seems to have offended some local sensitivities with its coarseness.  Given that we are trying to clean up our act in Lowell and support the new civility, I took action.  I deleted the "Comment" and reposted it here, without the offending passage.

In doing this I would note that the person most offended, or at least most attacked, attempted three times to communicate with me, via EMail, but to an account I am only periodically reviewing, and I missed her three EMails.  For that I apologize.

Regards  —  Cliff