Internet Access and Corporate Knowledge Lockdown

What sort of internet access will you have in the future? For some people in the world, the big question is whether they will have any access at all. Or if they do, will they be able to search for any information they want, or will their government watch all their network services? Meanwhile, here at home, while outright censorship is not as big an issue, there are questions about web content, who owns it, and who will be allowed to view it. Restrictions are growing, both at home and abroad, and that worries a lot of people.

Many corporations are urging new laws that would cut off access to the web for ordinary users for a host of reasons, most serving those corporations themselves. One only has to look at a new British law imposed late in 2009 to understand the problem. Every internet service provider (ISP) is now virtually required, by law, to spy on customers and report any infringements, such as sharing a pirated file. And while some penalties include cutting off the web for an entire family if only one member transgresses, other penalties can simply be invented, at will, by the British Business Secretary. Who, incidentally, is unelected and cannot be kicked out of office.

Does that sort of thing sound too much like Orwell’s “1984” territory? Similar laws about internet access, digital copyright and so on could be closer to implementation in this country than you think. International negotiations for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) have been occurring for some time, and the penalties could be just as unreasonable as in the recent British law. Your ISP may be forced to betray your privacy to the government, and your access to internet and video services could be lost permanently if you or a family member make a couple of wrong moves. Even if you didn’t know that’s what they were.

The issues in more oppressive countries might deal with free speech on the web, but internet access in the more “free” countries might end up looking much the same. What is the ultimate difference, really, if you have little access to information because the government censors it, or you have little access because all internet content is finally owned by corporations, and you can’t pay for more than a small amount of it? Either way, your ability to access the knowledge via the web is cut off.

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