Thankfully, the US has taken the proper position on this one:
The United States said Thursday that it will not sign a United Nations telecommunications treaty that U.S. technology companies warn would disrupt governance of the Internet and open the door to online censorship.
The U.K. and Canada also said they would not ratify the treaty after negotiations ended at a conference hosted by the U.N. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Dubai.
Kramer, who led the U.S. delegation during the conference, told reporters on a conference call that the U.S. could not sign the treaty because there were “too many issues here that were problematic for us.”
The treaty is intended to govern how telephone calls and other communications traffic are exchanged internationally. While it is not a legally binding document, Kramer said the U.S. opposed extending the scope of the treaty to include Internet governance and online content matters.
“The U.S. will continue to uphold and advance the multi-stakeholder model of the Internet,” Kramer told reporters.
The U.S. believed the treaty should not apply to Internet providers or private and government networks. Instead, U.S. delegates argued that only traditional telecommunications operators, such as AT&T and Verizon, should be subject to the updated rules.
Another attempted power grab by the UN and more importantly, something to provide a thin veneer of legality to all the 3rd world dictators attempts to control the net. Not that they won’t do that anyway, they just wanted it to be “legal”. So they will ratify this treaty.
“What is clear from the ITU meeting in Dubai is that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet,” a Google spokesman said in a statement. “We stand with the countries who refuse to sign this treaty and also with the millions of voices who have joined us to support a free and open Web.”
One is domestic and the other is international. On the domestic front we’re again confronted with “good intentions” being horribly and oppressively executed via a bad law.
Wending its way through Congress right now is legislation called the “Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA. The intention is obviously laudable. As “piracy” is usually defined, i.e. the theft of copyrighted material, it is certainly a function of government to attempt stop and or prosecute theft.
The problem isn’t found in the intent of the law, as I said. It’s in how it would be executed – the regulations it must spawn to meet the law’s requirements.
Stephen DeMaura and David Segal write about the effect it would have on political campaigns (their particular focus), but it certainly doesn’t take much to translate that effect onto blogs and many other types of websites. Read through the scenario they outline that demonstrates a possible effect on a political campaign and then think blogs:
Here’s a plausible campaign scenario under SOPA. Imagine you are running for Congress in a competitive House district. You give a strong interview to a local morning news show and your campaign posts the clip on your website. When your opponent’s campaign sees the video, it decides to play hardball and sends a notice to your Internet service provider alerting them to what it deems “infringing content.” It doesn’t matter if the content is actually pirated. The ISP has five days to pull down your website and the offending clip or be sued. If you don’t take the video down, even if you believe that the content is protected under fair use, your website goes dark.
The ability of any entity to file an infringement notice is one of SOPA’s biggest problems. It creates an unprecedented “private right of action” that would allow a private party, without any involvement by a court, to effectively shut down a website. For a campaign, this would mean shouldering legal responsibility for all user-generated posts. As more issue-based and political campaigns utilize social media to spread their message and engage supporters, a site could be targeted not only for the campaign’s own posts but also for well-meaning comments from supporters.
It doesn’t take a particularly bright person to see how this sort of a law could be used in a broader sense to kill freedom of speech via frivolous attacks on a site’s content. If QandO embarks on a campaign against a particular politician, for instance, and uses content that it deems to be “fair use” (and may indeed be fair use in a legal sense as well), all it takes is one person anywhere, whether they have a real interest or standing in the case, to file a complaint about “infringing content” and we’re gone unless we remove it. Whether justified or not, the ISP is left in a position of having to enforce removal or face the cost of a lawsuit (whether a lawsuit is ever intended over the claim or not). They will obviously move to protect their interests and that means dropping the so-called offender like a hot rock.
It would effectively chill free speech.
As DeMaura and Segal note, there’s an alternative bill sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa:
The Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade Act would create a process for rights holders to protect their property that wouldn’t shut down entire sites over a small amount of copyrighted material. This legislation helps to solve copyright infringement while protecting the vitality of the U.S.-based Internet sector — an industry that has contributed 23 percent of the growth in world gross domestic product and has revolutionized the way we live.
Attack real on-line piracy? Yes. Do it with terrible law? No. SOPA should not see the legislative light of day.
Problem two? The UN and other countries around the world want to have the ability to more directly control more of the internet. Robert McDowell of the FCC lays it out:
The 193-member International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a U.N.agency, will meet in Dubai next December to renegotiate the 24-year-old treaty that deals with international oversight of the Internet. A growing number of countries are pushing greater governmental control and management of the Web’s availability, financial model and infrastructure.
They believe the current model is “dominated” by the U.S., and want to “take that control and power away,” Mr. McDowell said. China and Russia support the effort, but so do non-Western U.S. allies such as Brazil, South Africa and India.
“Thus far, those who are pushing for new intergovernmental powers over the Internet are far more energized and organized than those who favor the Internet freedom and prosperity,” he said.
The reason, of course, is fairly straight forward – cash and control:
While growth of the Internet has exploded under a minimal regulatory model over the past two decades, “significant government and civil society support is developing for a different policy outlook,” according to an analysis by lawyers David Gross and M. Ethan Lucarelli on the legal intelligence website www.lexology.com.
“Driven largely by the global financial troubles of recent years, together with persistent concerns about the implications of the growth of the Internet for national economies, social structures and cultures, some governments and others are now actively reconsidering the continuing viability of liberalization and competition-based policies,” they wrote.
So the plan, apparently, is to wrest control from the US via this treaty:
A bad treaty – which would need the support of only a bare majority of U.N.members to pass and which the United States could not veto – could bring “a whole parade of problems,” Mr. McDowell said.
The U.S. and other Western democracies would likely “opt out” of the treaty, he predicted, leading to a “Balkanization” of the global information network. Governments under the treaty would have greater authority to regulate rates and local access, and such critical emerging issues as cybersecurity and data privacy standards would be subject to international control.
Mr. McDowell said the treaty could open the door to allowing revenue-hungry national governments to charge Internet giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon for their data traffic on a “per click” basis. The more website visitors those companies get, the more they pay.
And, as we’ve watched so many times, a vital and growing market would suffer government intrusion and probable decline:
In 1988, when the treaty was signed, fewer than 100,000 people used the Internet, Mr. McDowell said. Shortly after it was privatized in 1995, that number jumped to 16 million users. As of this year, it is up to 2 billion users, with another 500,000 joining every day.
“This phenomenal growth was the direct result of governments keeping their hands off the Internet sphere and relying instead on a private-sector, multi-stakeholder Internet governance model to keep it thriving,” he said.
Mr. McDowell attributed the massive growth of the Internet to freedom.
“So the whole point is, the more it migrated away from government control, the more it blossomed,” he said.
Freedom? Blossoming? Growth? Can’t have that. It must have government control and, by the way, contribute much more in revenue than it is now. Massive growth without significant contributions to government is just unacceptable in this day and time. And freedom? Anathema to the cult of government.
The servant has become the master and masters instinctively try to gather more and more power to themselves.
This is just another in a long line of examples. The result, of course, will be to cripple something that has been one of the few growth sectors in the global economy. Government greed and the belief of elites that they must control everything via government will eventually kill this proverbial golden goose. Instead of trying to enable more growth, they’re embarked on a campaign to limit and control any growth such that it provides increased revenue for government. Whether it is best for the citizens or economy of the countries so inclined is apparently irrelevant to the quest for more control and cash.
Freedom should be on the march, but instead, we continually see examples of it on the decline. The UN is one of the main culprits in that decline. It is a global organization in search of more power. Under the guise of global democracy, it is involved in killing freedom as it attempts to gather more and more power to itself. It is as obvious as the nose on your face that global governance is its ultimate goal. It can’t do that without exercising more control through willing members and generating more income from which it can demand a share.
To the control freaks and authoritarians out there, the internet is a horrifically dangerous thing. It provides much too much freedom for those they would control. Consequently they seek to wrest that control away. The UN is the perfect vehicle to provide the cover of legitimacy for such a power grab.
Again, here’s a treaty that has no business seeing the light of day. However, if I had to guess, it will pass. And freedom will take another giant step backward.
Corey Doctorow at Boing Boing has gotten a leaked copy of what is characterized as a “secret treaty” – secret because of so-called “national security” implications (secrecy, as we were told during the last election, is the first refuge of tyrants). In fact, it is a copyright treaty alleged to be a part of the Anti-Counterfitting Trade Agreement. Doctorow distills the treaty’s salient points as he understands them:
* That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn’t infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.
* That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet — and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living — if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.
* That the whole world must adopt US-style “notice-and-takedown” rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused — again, without evidence or trial — of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.
* Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose (e.g., to make a work available to disabled people; for archival preservation; because you own the copyrighted work that is locked up with DRM).
I’m assuming “DRM” stands for Digital Rights Management.
Read each of those points carefully. If accurate these measures would effectively shut down much of the internet and certainly, at a minimum, change the way political blogs function. And there is no question, given the onus being put on ISPs by this treaty to police copyright infringement, that they would err on the side of caution.
This is being negotiated right now in Seoul, Korea by the administration (and, as this Canadian blogger points out, these provisions are being pushed by the US) which so derisively trashed the “Patriot Act” during the presidential campaign. As Doctorow points out, it’s draconian provisions leave ISPs with little choice but to take down anything about which there is even a hint of doubt. “Chilling effect” doesn’t even begin to describe the effect of such a treaty on free speech.
As for the transparency promised by this administration, this, among a mountain of things since it has taken office, apparently doesn’t fit that category. Being negotiated away in secret is your ability to access the internet and speak out if there’s even a hint (proof is not necessary) that copyrighted material is included in your piece.
Sound reasonable? Or are you still a bit of a traditionalist and want to see legal due process and the presumption of innocence remain as the first line defense of your rights? If you enjoy the ‘net as it stands now, you need to speak out against this obvious attempt to control speech. Treaties, even secret ones, still have to be ratified by the Senate. The way to stop this one is to make it not so secret and demand that the Senate vote it down.
UPDATE: Reason’s Jesse Walker:
As the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement enters its sixth round of secret negotiations, rumors are emerging about the provisions under discussion. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted the reports it has heard here; if the leaks are true, the treaty will be filled with measures that, in EFF’s words, “have nothing to do with addressing counterfeit products, but are all about imposing a set of copyright industry demands on the global Internet.”
See Michael’s discussion about “corporatism”. It’s like slipping an amendment to build a museum to Ted Kennedy into a defense appropriations bill – hide the desired but unpopular special interest legislation in a more popular and necessary bill.