PublishedSeptember 19, 2008

Op-Ed: Fighting Internet Suppression, Gov’t Spying, ISP Content-Bias

As appears in The Hill

September 18, 2008

OneWeb Day, Sept. 22, is the third anniversary of the “Earth Day” for Internet users. It’s a day to consider what business models, technical tools and governmental policies help the Internet – and what threats are lurking.

Three threats to Internet freedom are worth noting on OneWeb Day. The first is the temptation to filter Internet content for what most agree are good causes, curbing terrorism, child pornography, gambling, and copyright piracy. However, the Internet could die a death by a thousand cuts if Internet Service Providers must turn over customer records or cut their access whenever a government has a good reason.

That leads to the second threat, government spying. George Orwell’s vision of an all-seeing, government-controlled “telescreen” in every home and office is no longer fiction.

The size and scope of the U.S. government’s surveillance of electronic communications is largely unknown. Congress effectively granted a cloak of secrecy when it renewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with retroactive immunity for telecom carriers who turned over customer records. The move essentially blocks 40 lawsuits that would have shed light on this allegedly illegal activity.

Business models proposed by big ISPs designed to charge websites more for faster service or steer users to content based on business deals are a third major threat. The Internet has historically been content neutral and net neutrality is what has made the Internet so great for innovation and communication. Sure, big ISPs might make a few million dollars more without net neutrality, but at what cost to innovation and online freedom?

We hope OneWebDay launches a serious discussion on common principles essential for Internet freedom. When policies impacting the Internet are considered, we need a consistent ethic so the Internet remains a tool for openness and freedom, not control and repression.

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