March 23, 2012
When SOPA was on its way toward law last year, Americans and the world took notice of what the government was attempting to do, which basically translated as policing the Internet. SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, would have given United States law enforcement the authority to shut down or cut off access to sites reported as violating copyright law. This could have proven the end for many user-generated sites, such as those offering reviews or coupons for businesses. Any site that allows user-submitted content or that circulates a large number of links to other companies’ products could quickly become a potential target due to their inability to regulate all of the content available through those links. Further, because they’re linking to them, SOPA would have held them responsible for that content, making it nearly impossible for them to function as before.
The passage of SOPA would not have left the U.S. alone in their policing of the Internet, though. As far back as 1997, China has censored the content that comes into their country through the Internet. Any information that disparages the Chinese government is blocked, as well as other types of information that the Chinese government doesn’t want their citizens to see, and participation in certain online participation is unlawful. In accordance with these laws, China also has the largest population of citizens imprisoned for cyber offenses, like breaching the country’s massive firewall.
Pakistan is trying to find a system that works much like the firewall of China. If the Pakistani government has success in trying to find an application that provides them with the same type of control over the Internet that China has, the country could be on its way to being the next China in terms of online censorship. Pakistan has been blocking information that comes into their country via the Internet site by site, but with a system that can uniformly block all questionable websites at once, Pakistan will have the power to severely limit citizens’ access to information.
In the UK, the government isn’t trying to shut down websites or stop the information that comes into the country, but they do want to know what information their citizens are accessing online. The country’s leaders are trying to gain access to the email addresses, IP addresses and other personal information of individuals. The idea of using the Internet for ongoing surveillance isn’t new, but the push to put this type of virtual policing on the books as law, if successful, could set a precedent for other countries around the world that the Internet is the place to spy on private citizens without the need for consent or justification.
If the world’s governments cannot block content coming through the Internet, it seems, they are at least determined to gather and control that information by a variety of means. The question is, where does this type of censorship lead?
With the growth of the Internet, information once limited by borders now spreads worldwide, sometimes within a matter of minutes. The access to information makes it possible for people to unite across oceans and cultures, and has created major social changes throughout the world. If the world’s governments are successful in censoring the information on the Internet, or invading the privacy of their citizens, what kind of barriers will that create to the worldwide social community that has been expanding for more than a decade?
Joseph Baker is a freelance writer living in the Midwest. He enjoys working on his novel and drinking large amounts of Earl Grey tea. He writes this article behalf of American InterContinental University.