Web censorship is a global conflict, whose examples of suppression date back to 2008 and extend to government organizations or corporations.
Inner City Press: United Nations Censorship
One of the first examples of censorship can be found when a journalist who exposed corruption in the United Nations disappeared from Google and Yahoo search engines.
Mathew Lee, the editor in chief of Inner City Press, a small online publication that has taken on corruption in companies since 1987, received a letter from media giant Google clarifying that his website had been de-listed.
“We periodically review news sources, particularly following user complaints, to ensure Google News offers a high quality experience for our users,” it said. “When we reviewed your site we’ve found that we can no longer include it in Google News.”
Without further clarification of why the website was blocked from Google and Yahoo traffic, Lee assumed the United Nations was responsible. Days later, after Lee had written to ask why his website was de-listed, a Google responded “Google refuses to reveal who sent the complaint against Inner City Press citing privacy concerns.
Lee was never given confirmation that his website was shutdown by the United Nations, but this story goes beyond assumption.
When Power is Given Too Much Power
Another example, comes from a bill introduced by the United States Congress.
Aaron Schwartz, a passionate activist of internet freedom, understood, more than ever in a world where information is power, both legal and technical protections for privacy are essential to keep people from being rendered powerless according to memoir written by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Before his death last year, Schwartz was under indictment for allegedly violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (a law written almost 30 years ago) when he used MIT’s computer network to download millions of academic articles from the online archive JSTOR without “authorization.”
Aaron Schwartz’s girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman writes “I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a persecution and a prosecution that had already wound on for 2 years,” according to an emotional blog post.
According to court documents, Schwartz wanted to give the public access to all academic articles without purchase or copyright because he believed it was wrong to withhold information from members of the population who could not afford to be knowledgable.
In late 2011, while the internet freedom activist was awaiting trial, he joined together with an enormous online community to defend the freedom of the internet, when a bill titled “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) was introduced in the Unite States House of Representatives. This community included websites like Google, Wikipedia, Tumblr, and over 115 thousand sites altering their webpages who displayed black banners over their site logos with the words “STOP CENSORSHIP.”
The large community claimed that under SOPA, private companies “will be able to force payment processors to shut down payments to websites by merely claiming the site ‘engages in, enables or facilitates’ infringement.”
Thus giving large companies too much power to defend copyright because they could effectively silence a website’s flow of information before a review from an official copyright court ever took place.
SOPA was recalled amidst the protests in 2012. Lamar Smith, the writer of the bill, claimed the Stop Online Piracy Act had been unfairly criticize[d] in an opinion piece in The New York Times
Google, Facebook, Twitter and other companies sent a joint letter to Congress, stating “We support the bills’ stated goals – providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign ‘rogue’ Web sites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting. However, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action and technology mandates that would require monitoring of Web sites.” reported David Carr of The New York Times.
The copyright bill has been re-written in multiple bills like CISPA since being recalled in 2012, but no legislation restricting copyright has been passed into law by the United States.
The freedom of the internet is fundamental in a continuing democratic society. As a free forum, the internet, and the voices that populate it, have influential power over governments and corporations. It is crucial that it stays free from censorship from these parties because it takes away our ability to join together as a society to check and balance corrupt actions.