Friday, June 24, 2011

Governments install internet filters -- just in case?

Another blow has surfaced to the freedom previously enjoyed by users of the internet.

What were once lines of communications unfettered by official roadblocks or detours are now increasingly coming under threat as authorities move to address the issues of crime and unauthorised distribution of copyrighted works.

In the USA, the government has taken it upon themselves to seize control of domain names it believes are associated with such nefarious activities and now the UK is looking at taking similar steps.

To date, filtering or blocking of websites has been used as a tool against more serious crimes such as child pornography and terrorism but now, it would appear, the copyright lobbiests have been able to sway governments to consider the use of such techniques as a method of protecting the rights of copyright holders.

One issue receiving priority consideration for such blocking is the blocking of streamed video, particularly that of live sports events. Such activities are sometimes carried out by capturing live pay-TV broadcasts and streaming them via the internet. However, as in the USA, moves are afoot to also disconnect or block access to sites which make copyrighted material available for illegal download.

Critics of the moves are challenging whether copyright infringement can really be compared to crimes such as child pornography or terrorism and therefore, whether such filtering or blocking can be justified. Some point to a "thin end of the wedge" strategy that ultimately opens the door to government filtering of the internet on political, religious or other grounds.

These opponents also point out that such attempts to stem the flow of copyrighted material will ultimately be futile, due to the wide range of different strategies that can be used to cloak and disguise such downloads and transactions online.

Governments argue that the blocks are simply used to enforce the law and that only sites engaged in illegal acts will be affected.

The question all internet users must ask themselves is -- where should the line be drawn?

We've all seen how instrumental the internet has been in some of the uprisings against oppressive regimes in countries which lack democracy. Could it be that even in democratic nations, governments are so concerned about the power of the Net that they wish to preemptively introduce control measures "just in case" they are needed for political ends sometime in the future?

Food for thought, perhaps.

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