‘U.S. Gov. No Longer Understands Freedom’

New Bill Cracks Down on ‘Copyright-Infringing’ Websites

A free government does not demonstrate its cherished ideals by detaining, and then repeatedly harrassing a security researcher with a clean criminal record for defending an accused whistle-blower.

A free government does not then proceed to exploit a legal loophole, allowing for unwarranted searches and seizures at airport arrivals to harass and intimidate other supporters.

A free government does not search through a seized cell phone’s contact list in order to harass other security researchers that have no criminal or even political record.

A free government does not top off its civil harassment by unanimously approving a bill that would allow the power ‘to turn off’ ‘copyright-infringing’ websites, regardless of whether the site has committed a crime or not and without any due process.

I’ll run that by you once more—the United States government is demonstrating time and time again that it no longer understands freedom, nor the value of attributing it to its citizens.

I wrote in a The Link article [Vol.31, Iss. 10, Special Insert Pg. 6] a month ago about how WikiLeaks and the Department of Defense were turning the Internet into a battleground, and it seems I was right. Jacob Appelbaum’s detention after representing WikiLeaks in New York City at a July conference resulted in his electronic equipment being confiscated (and according to his Twitter feed, never returned) by the United States government.

Two weeks ago, David House, an MIT researcher, was detained in similar fashion as he arrived to Chicago Airport on a flight from Mexico, also having all of his electronic equipment confiscated (seizure document) over his visiting alleged whistle-blower Bradley Manning. Also, accomplished security researcher Moxie Marlinspike was detained after federal agents reportedly found his name in the contact list of Appelbaum’s seized cell phone on Nov. 17.

“I have no idea what’s going on, why this is happening to me,” Marlinspike said in a CNET interview. “From the questions I’ve had to field it seems like this is part of some larger fishing expedition. There is someone somewhere who wants access to something on my laptop or my phone and they can’t just come and ask me for it. And they can’t get a warrant without suspicion. So, they wait for me to travel internationally because at the border they can do anything they want.”

The agents from the Department of Defense are shying away from citizen rights and, like true cowards, are waiting for the only opportunity when they can strike with no justification, no repercussions and no questions asked.

The U.S. government does not, however, seem satisfied with harassing both activist and non-activist computer scientists. The Senate has recently approved The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), officially described as “a bill to combat online infringement, and for other purposes.”

While one must applaud the exact legal definition (“and for other purposes”), the fine print for this Internet censorship bill is worded just as precisely, promising to censor websites that are “designed primarily to offer goods or services in violation of federal copyright law.”

The US Senate’s unanimous vote on the COICA bill is an affront and a direct attack against the last true bastion of free speech in the world. It is an unwarranted attempt at the censorship and control of the most beautiful, educational and powerful free flow of information that mankind has ever achieved.

The Senate’s blind approval shows that it is ready to waltz through a bill, even after a group of affluential academics, led by a Temple University Law Professor, signed a petition opposing COICA. In the petition letter, they described the bill as an infringement on freedom of speech, and they argued that it will set a precedent for further transgression.

The Senate also turned a deaf ear to an open letter drafted by eighty-seven distinguished Internet engineers. It warned that the bill would break the Internet’s global domain name system, impede technological innovation and ruin the United States’ reputation of being a leader of key Internet infrastructure. The letter continued by stating that the bill will only be bypassed by deliberate infringers and disrupt regular Internet users ability to communicate.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has blocked the COICA bill from taking effect. He said to The National Journal that he pledges to do everything he can to stop the bill from passing. His opposition towards the bill, which was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 19-0 vote, will likely kill the bill for one year, according to PCWorld.com.

There is no guarantee that the government will not try to find another loophole around Wyden’s decision. It’s about time we realized that no matter how many lawyers warn, no matter how many engineers plead, and no matter how many civilians are harassed, the United States government simply does not care anymore.

Equipped with a murky mind that is set on its own self-interest, it has duly and provably forgotten its founding values and replaced them with the cowardly exploitation of an ugly system for the furthering of unjustified ends.

By exploiting legal loopholes in order to detain and harass, and by unanimously voting for an Internet censorship bill, the United States government has shown the world that it is willing to forsake free speech and civil liberty, in one fell swoop, to get its way.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 15, published November 23, 2010.

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