The Internet is closed today, please check back tomorrow

Filtered! uploaded to Flickr on july 2 2006 by elishka, creative commons

Clearly I am preoccupied with issues of privacy, since it surfaces in so many of my posts. I am also worried about the concomitant efforts to censor or limit availability of the net, often in the name of a nation’s right to privacy. (Just look at Dick Cheney’s maniacal protection of his own privacy) I am talking of course not only about impending Illinois legislation requiring mandatory library Internet filtering. (Check out the Geneva Public Library spot about HB1727, it’s a nice encapsulation of the issues for anyone just hearing about it; this ILA action alert is good for further education & talking points) There is a larger issue surrounding the filtration of the Internet across entire nations, where people are “protected” from dangerous information in an effort to quell social activism. North Korea is noteworthy for how effectively news of international affairs is kept at bay, and Castro has also maintained the means to foster widespread disinformation.

Asia Pundit: internet censorship map (.pdf file of a map based on the ONI Internet Filtering Map. See also ICE:Internet Censorship Explorer for more info)

Anyone interested in global Internet filtration should check out the ONI Internet Filtering Map. Their analytical tools are unfortunately far from representative, but they attempt to reflect current states of repression through political, social, conflict/security and Internet tool controls. As you’ll see, large swaths of the world are gray, meaning no reliable data has been collected. They have far to go, but it’s promising to see that the statistical tools are currently being refined and developed.

The problem stems from large corporations, specifically Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, who are all willing to offer their services to countries, most notably China, with embedded limitations at the outset. Often the corporations argue that they are following normative business practice by adhering to local laws and customs. That argument is a black hole as far as I’m concerned, and one need only look to the morally indefensible misuse of our 14th amendment to see what I’m talking about. Meant to protect blacks recently freed from slavery, the 14th amendment has a shameful history of misuse; see this Straight Dope article which discusses how exactly the personhood argument was snuck into the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company precedent. Lest anyone think that my example is not contemporary enough, just look at Wal-Mart’s corporate personhood claim for equal protection in a court case from 2004. Or how about Nike v. Kasky, where it was argued that suing a corporation for lying infringes on its natural First Amendment protections of free speech. (Too bad the supreme court sidestepped that one)

Privacy Digest, maintained by Paul Hardwick, is a wonderful resource which compiles news stories, business precedents and impending legislation that influence privacy issues. Nate Anderson for ars technica recently reported on an Amnesty International conference that described Internet filtering as a virus, and he reasonably notes several gray areas surrounding the issue. Amnesty International is actually pro certain forms of censorship — much in the way that Sandy Berman, while advocating for updating biased language in Library of Congress catalog designations, simultaneously called for the removal of select Christian works not only from his own Hennepin County Public Library but from all libraries across the country as well. Is censorship ever warranted? If so, who is invited to the table? Often the gray area centers on hate speech, and on insuring a world where people are free from hostility — indubitably worthwhile goals that deserve reasoned consideration free from invectives or politics.  But what of the gray area surrounding corporate responsibility?  Do we let the market and government limitation decide?

I definitely hope that libraries will not remain quiet about Internet filtration, and allow by default for legislation on either a State or Federal level to control the terms of service. We must also fight efforts by our own government to limit access to information that should be in the public domain. (We do elect them for public service, after all…) We must pay attention to privacy and filtration issues globally as well, and insure that our access remains free from stop-gap measures clogging misdiagnosed holes in the Internet.

Thankfully, the Internet is here to assist us to ensure accountability on all levels, if we let it. (There’s a reason the US military is by some accounts uncomfortable with real-time military bloggers in the age of embedded journalism… Daily blogging, by the way, is a great way for vetting your thought processes; I highly recommend it. )

Rush, lyrics to “Free Will” from Permanent Waves

There are those who think that life is nothing left to chance
A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance.

A planet of playthings,
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive.
“The stars aren’t aligned
Or the gods are malign”
Blame is better to give than receive.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will.

There are those who think that they were dealt a losing hand,
The cards were stacked against them
They weren’t born in lotus land.

All preordained
A prisoner in chains
A victim of venomous fate.

Kicked in the face,
You can pray for a place
In heaven’s unearthly estate.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will.

Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete.
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt that’s far too fleet.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will.

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