A coalition of hacker activists known as “Anonymous” — styling itself a “hacktivist” collective that fights for Internet freedom — took credit for bringing down websites belonging to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Copyright Office, and multiple heavy-hitting industry association sites. Most of the websites were back online by Friday morning.
On Wednesday Internet users got a taste of what opponents of an intellectual property bill currently before Congress say the web could look like if the bill becomes law. Popular websites such as Wikipedia, Craigslist, Reddit, Google, and Wired “went dark” or otherwise modified their usual appearances to protest the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s corresponding Protect IP [Intellectual Property] Act (PIPA). Both bills are scheduled for major actions in the coming weeks.
In response to rising citizen demand for government transparency and efficiency, this year China plans to defog the secretive workings of the government and ruling Communist Party, a senior official said Wednesday. "In this new year, we will adopt an even more open attitude and even more forceful policies," asserted Wang Chen, a Chinese propaganda official.
After months of discussion between and among 1,800 contributors to Wikipedia, the online information source, it decided to “go black" on Wednesday to protest the dangers in two bills that threaten the freedom of the Internet. Many other websites are also participating in today's protest. The bills are the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
With so many of our most essential liberties under attack from the oligarchy on the Potomac, it is little wonder that the freedom of the press and speech are next on the government guillotine. The Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center (NOC) released its Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative last year and in that report the intelligence-gathering arm of the DHS, the Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS) gives itself permission to “gather, store, analyze, and disseminate” data on millions of users of social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) and business networking sites (Linkedin).
Google announced Tuesday a new social networking maneuver that will rummage through photos and commentary on its budding social network, Google+, so search results can provide more personal information for web browsing. The addition, which was employed the same day it was announced, will tailor search results by filtering content to the unique interests of each user browsing the Internet.
The company’s six-month-old Plus product is a social networking service Google offered to counter the sweeping popularity of Facebook’s online parlor and Twitter’s status-updating hub. The new feature, called "Search, Plus Your World," was partially activated Tuesday (some users will not see the change immediately) for all searches administered by users logged into Google; deactivating the individually catered results will require changing settings under the user’s personal preferences. Personal search results can also be suspended on a search-by-search basis by clicking an icon on the results page.
Google Fellow Amit Singhal detailed in a blog post three areas that will be affected by the new feature:
The Obama administration gave states and the gambling industry an early Christmas present December 23 in the form of a controversial Department of Justice (DOJ) opinion that reversed years of federal policy covering online gambling. As reported by Reuters News Service, previously the DOJ had held that “online gambling in all forms was illegal under the Wire Act of 1961, which bars wagers via telecommunications that cross state lines or international borders.” The recent DOJ opinion, dated in September but released only in late December, makes the qualification that “[i]nterstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.”
The New York Times reported that the opinion, in the form of a memorandum, came in response to “requests by New York and Illinois to clarify whether the Wire Act of 1961 … prevented those states from using the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults within their own borders.” The Times added that while the memorandum “dealt specifically with lottery tickets, it opened the door for states to allow Internet poker and other forms of online betting that do not involve sports. Many states are interested in online gambling as a way to raise tax revenue.”
The lawmakers promoting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) insist that in the long term it will improve the economy by protecting the intellectual property market and the associated industries and jobs. That would increase revenue and would guard American Internet ventures against economic harm perpetrated by foreign websites.
It does seem odd that given the safeguards supposedly established by SOPA, so many online organizations — Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Reddit, and YouTube — have aligned themselves against the measure and are actively working to prevent its passage.
Perhaps these information-age giants are onto something. Perhaps they understand that by granting the government the power to pull the plug on any one of these websites at any time without warning, SOPA is a persuasive disincentive to investment and thus to corporate growth and survival.
SOPA, H.R. 3261, was introduced into the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011 by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) along with 12 co-sponsors (as of December 16, 2011, there are 31 co-sponsors signed onto the bill). The bill, which endows the federal government with a broad array of powers over Internet content and activity, is now before the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
How did your U.S. Representative and Senators vote on last summer's debt deal that raised the national debt limit while promising to reduce future spending and deficit projections? How did your Representative vote on a measure that would have repealed the federal phaseout of the ubiquitous incandescent light bulb? And how did your Senators vote on an amendment to prohibit U.S. citizens from being held indefinitely in the ongoing war against terrorism without being given a trial?
The answers to all three questions above are in our latest "Freedom Index" in the January 9, 2012 issue of The New American and also available online as a downloadable PDF.
The New American's "Freedom Index" is a congressional scorecard that rates all members of the House and Senate based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty, and a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements. The index is published four times each two-year congressional term; each index rates Congressmen based on 10 key votes.
In last Saturday’s print edition of The Economist magazine, staff writers attempted to compare today’s Internet with the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517. Claiming that by nailing his complaints onto a bulletin board, Luther started the Reformation. This was done, according to The Economist’s rewriting of history, “when Martin Luther and his allies took the new media of their day — pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts — and circulated them through social networks to promote their message of religious reform.” From there the article concentrates on the alleged “social network” that Luther had to promote his views, rather than on the message — the information — contained in those views:
In December 1517 printed editions of the theses, in the form of pamphlets and broadsheets, appeared simultaneously in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel, paid for by Luther’s friends to whom he had sent copies. German translations, which could be read by a wider public than Latin-speaking academics and clergy, soon followed and quickly spread throughout the German-speaking lands. Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius later wrote that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them….”