UPDATE: The resolution to undo the FCC's "Net Neutrality" Internet power grab was rejected in the Senate by 52-46 on November 10.
The days of tax-free Internet shopping may soon be coming to an abrupt end, if two Republican senators have their way. Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are currently preparing to introduce new legislation that would allow states to force Amazon.com and other out-of-state online retailers to collect sales taxes. Their bill has the backing of several key corporate retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores, Best Buy, Home Depot, and other companies that are currently required to collect sales taxes. At issue is whether online retailers should have to collect sales taxes in states where they’re making sales. Currently, online shoppers are supposed to report purchases for tax purposes but usually don’t.
"It's time to close the online sales tax loophole," says Jason Brewer, a vice president at the Retail Industry Leaders Association in Arlington, Va., which represents big box stores. "Amazon and companies like it are no longer fledgling startups."
The Republican-led legislative effort has a clear precedent in legislation introduced by Senate Democrats last year. The so-called Main Street Fairness Act of 2010 was introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and called for taxes on online purchases, under the presumption that local retail outfits are placed at a comparative disadvantage to online retailers due to discrepancies in taxation. The justification for these measures is a reprise of arguments that state tax collectors have made for at least a decade: they claim that Amazon.com, Overstock.com, Blue Nile, and other online retailers that don't always collect taxes are unreasonably depriving states of revenue, and that they enjoy an unfair competitive advantage over local retailers that must collect taxes, according to CNET’s Declan McCullagh.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced a “rogue websites” bill that has managed to attract bipartisan support even though it would force Internet Service Providers to create a list of banned websites and prevent users of those websites from accessing their sites. The list is all too similar to the “ban lists” that are found in China.
Breitbart.com reports: “US lawmakers introduced a bill on Wednesday that would give US authorities more tools to crack down on websites accused of piracy of movies, television shows and music and the sale of counterfeit goods.”
Entitled the Stop Online Piracy Act, the bill reads:
A service provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site (or portion thereof) that is subject to the order, including measures designed to prevent the domain name of the foreign infringing site (or portion thereof) from resolving to that domain name’s Internet Protocol address.
It is the House version of a bill that was introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier this year called the Theft of Intellectual Property Act or Protect IP Act.
In the wake of criticism over privacy issues on Facebook, the social network has responded by indicating it will make significant changes to its site in order to protect individual privacy. In fact, Facebook officials went so far as to pay hackers — whom they call “independent researchers” — $40,000 to find holes in the site’s security system to assure that they have addressed all issues.
According to Facebook’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, the social network has launched a “Bounty Bug Program” in order to discover any flaws in the system’s software due to “software complexity, programming errors, changes in requirements, errors in bug tracking, limited documentation or bugs in software development tools.”
Facebook posted the following explanation of the program:
Efforts by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to regulate the Internet may become irrelevant if the new technology being developed succeeds as expected. When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against the FCC last December, the FCC rewrote its rules to allow them to regulate the Internet anyway through the whitewash called “net neutrality.” Verizon immediately filed suit to overrule the new attempt, and a House subcommittee in March voted to invalidate the actions of the FCC. But the new rules remain in place until the issue is decided.
All of which may be irrelevant as new technology, called Telex, is being developed as a “work-around” for any such attempts by the FCC. Alex Halderman, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, is one of the developers of the software. In a recent interview he explained that people living under Internet censorship are already able to connect to third-party servers outside their country, but that it doesn’t take long for the government to find these servers and block them. Telex, on the other hand, turns the entire internet into an anti-censorship device. He says:
Angered over what they perceive to be a violation of free speech, hackers in California launched an online attack against a California transit agency after it turned off cellphone service at its stations in an effort to prevent a potential protest last week.
The hackers are apparently frustrated by efforts taken by police in San Francisco to jam cellphone communications so that protesters could not move forward with their protests. Gawker.com explains: "Protesters had planned to gather at a San Francisco BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] station during rush hour to protest the fatal July shooting of Charles Hill by a BART police officer. But the protest never materialized. One reason, possibly, is the extreme lengths police went to make sure potential protesters couldn't communicate."
British Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly considering the drastic step of “pre-crime” blocking of social media sites if the violent riots in his country continue. He contends that such a move would permit authorities more time to “catch up” with arrests of suspects shown rioting on surveillance cameras. The communication platforms under particular scrutiny are Twitter, Facebook, and Blackberry Instant Messenger.
In an address to the British House of Commons on Thursday, Cameron explained:
Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.
Similar measures were taken by then-President Hosni Mubarak during the Egyptian revolution earlier this year. The Guardian reported on the impact of social networking during the conflict:
After attending the Bilderberg conference in Switzerland in June, Facebook’s marketing director, Randi Zuckerberg, announced that she had solved the cyberbullying issue: Prohibit anonymous Internet activity.
In addition to being the director of marketing for the social media icon, Zuckerberg is the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The siblings attended the Bilderberg conference where Mark Zuckerberg delivered a key address.
Many of the Internet’s elites were present for the annual secret confab held this year in St. Moritz, Switzerland. According to an exposé by The New American’s own Alex Newman, many such luminaries were on hand at the conference:
Google announced on its blog on June 24th that the Federal Trade Commission had launched “a review of our business. We respect the FTC’s process and will be working with them over the coming months to answer questions about Google and our services. ” But Google doesn’t know what the FTC is looking for:
It’s still unclear exactly what the FTC’s concerns are, but we’re clear about where we stand. Since the beginning, we have been guided by the idea that, if we focus on the user, all else will follow.
No matter what you’re looking for — buying a movie ticket, finding the best burger nearby, or watching a royal wedding — we want to get you the information you want as quickly as possible…
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a big step toward government regulation of the Internet on December 21, 2010 with a bureaucratic vote in favor of so-called “net neutrality” rules, but critics are already plotting a counter-attack.