It’s official now. The signs had been there for a while now. While the west bangs on about the importance of freedom and democracy, they don’t actually want anyone to have too much of it. The US, France, and the UK have jointly pretty much declared war on freedom on the web.
Ars Technica has an article up which takes a peek inside the plan, jointly developed by the US, France, and the UK, to start ‘civilising’ and ‘policing’ the web. It would seem that for all the talk from these countries about spreading freedom and democracy, they don’t actually want their own peoples to have too much of it.
Of course, they wrap it up in a whole string of ‘think of the children’-arguments, focussing on things like child pornography, IP infringement, and more of these things. They are planning on setting up virtual borders around countries that are not willing to cooperate in the massive censorship plans of the US, France, and the UK. ISPs are supposed to become the virtual border patrol, blocking all traffic from and to countries not part of this coalition of the willing.
The real issue, of course, is that the web poses a major threat to the establishment. The web is a breeding ground for new and sometimes radical ideas, it’s a place where people with different, dissenting – but not illegal – ideas can get together and organise themselves. It’s a place where everyone can get his voice heard, it’s a place where money and power are irrelevant. It’s a new world, a world our current governments are not part of.
The ‘old’ media are policed and controlled, they’re consolidated and established; starting your own TV network or newspaper is costly and difficult. Before the internet, your ability to get organised and pose a threat to the establishment was limited. The internet has changed all this: internet access in the west is cheap and easy to come by, a webpage is set up in minutes, or a little longer for more sophisticated sites, and there are various ways to get your voice heard.
The internet also poses a threat in that it has no secrets, and it tolerates no secrets. Governments the world over rely on misinformation and back-room deals, and the web – with WikiLeaks being the most famous, but certainly not the only example – threatens this way of doing business.
The web is the wet dream of people who believe governments should be transparent and held accountable – much to the chagrin of these same governments, obviously. Take Obama – his popularity came in a large part due to the web. If he can do it, so can someone else – someone not from the two established parties in the US. This is a major threat to their position, and as such, the call to censor the web and limit freedom on the web is a bi-partisan thing. Both left and right in the US feel threatened.
The same has happened here in The Netherlands over the past 10 years. New figures have risen to prominence thanks to the web. Pim Fortuyn is a border-case, but Geert Wilders certainly owes most of his popularity to the web. However, much like Obama, Wilders was already an established figure, and thus, part of the ‘old world’. But again – if he can do it, so can someone else. Someone new. Someone who doesn’t have his or her roots in the establishment. That’s why I was so surprised net neutrality was codified here in The Netherlands, as we reported yesterday.
I have made it very clear in my stint here at OSNews that I firmly believe that governments should keep their filthy paws off the web. The internet is single-handedly shifting the balance of power from governments back to the people, where it belongs. While the internet is certainly not the cause of what we in The Netherlands are calling the ‘Arab Spring’, it most certainly facilitated it a great, great deal. If this can happen in countries with relatively limited internet access, just imagine what the internet can do in countries with near-100% internet penetration.
This is what our governments are so afraid of. They know full well that if they don’t take away our freedom on the web now, the transfer of power to the people will only accelerate, up to a point where governments will become what they are supposed to be: the employees of the people, near-100% transparent, fully accountable for their actions, and wholly disposable. A saying I’m very fond of says that ‘laws exist to serve the people; not the other way around’, and right now, the people are serving the laws.
The web is changing all that.
It’s not just governments that fear the web. The internet has led to an insane amount of creativity, as it gives people from all walks of life the opportunity to express themselves; whether it’s cat videos or a brilliant author self-publishing a great book, the internet is the death knell for the traditional content model. No longer are artists dependent on large media companies to promote their works to interested people, and as the years go by, the power of the content industry is fading.
It’s not just the media industry that feels the sting of the web. The web makes it possible for consumers to compare and contrast products from not just one shop in their home town, but from shops all over the world. This has had an incredibly positive effect on competition.
The theme here is the same: thanks to the web, the balance of power is shifting from companies to the people. This doesn’t just cover the products themselves; just as the web forces openness and transparency upon governments, it also forces them on companies. Misconduct can no longer be hidden for long periods of time – the internet does not tolerate secrets. It will find out.
As such, it’s no secret that governments and companies alike want to curb the freedom of the web, and the recent plans from the US, France, and the UK are only the beginning. More and more of our freedoms will be taken away, but the web is already fighting back. Anonymous struck back hard against companies and organisations messing with WikiLeaks, and the more aggressive governments and companies get in this war, the better organised and more vicious the web’s responses will become.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is a war brewing. At stake are not resources, or land, or prestige – no, at stake is the very freedom so many of our ancestors have fought for. In fact, people all over the world are still fighting for the kind of freedoms the US, France, and the UK want to take away from us.
It’s the freedom to express yourself, in whatever way, shape, or form. Whether you want to post a cute video of a kitten, write a scathing critique of local government policy in a small town in Connecticut, or instigate an uprising to overthrow an oppressive regime – the internet is what makes it possible. Without the internet, or with a curbed and censored internet, the world is simply a hell of a lot less free.
We must not allow this to happen. The fact that The Netherlands, as the first traditionally western country (big props to Chile for being the first, but I don’t count it as part of the west), has turned net neutrality into law is a step in the right direction, and a big slap in the face of the US, France, and the UK. The Netherlands is often seen as somewhat of a guiding light when it comes to matters that touch the very core of freedom and human rights (same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and so on), and I am hoping that like with those matters, other countries will soon follow in our footsteps.
So, no matter where you live, use your voice. Use your vote. Read the programmes of your political parties. Look at their internet chapters. We can’t all be protesters or hackers, but we do all have a vote. As insignificant as a single vote may be, the outcome here in The Netherlands shows that it is possible.
The war has barely begun. Obama, Sarkozy, and Cameron have no idea how large the hornet’s nest they’re poking really is.