The internet: an open and immersive platform where you can find everything and anything, at any time. Well, that's the premise, but some countries, in fact, inhibit selected media and content - you know, for political gain or just nothing more than sheer bullying - that dictatorship thing; however, generally, it's open to all! Naturally, with impressionable children and whatnot, we need to have the ability to restrict access to certain content, which seems to be a more moderate and reasonable sense of "censorship," if you like.
The Bill of Rights, Amendment 1
Freedom of access isn't only limited by restrictions from parental control or dictatorships either: You see, I have access to many sites that offer me the opportunity to download copyrighted content such as music, movies, applications and digital books! My internet service provider (ISP) does its best to restrict my access to such content yet, much to my dismay, I can still locate and download several of my books in digital format! Eesh, that's depressing! Anyway, if you're here in the UK and you do attempt to access a site offering such content, you're invariably prompted with a notice informing you that the site has been blocked "pursuant to orders of the high court."
So, despite limits on our opportunities to discover the illegal, academic or educational, macabre and more often explicit sexual content, there is a clear abundance of material to satisfy most diets. Moreover, this liberty and openness is akin to our freedom of expression - our right to voice an opinion irrespective of who is listening since we always have the ability to switch it off! It's that "Bill of Rights, Amendment 1 - Freedom of Religion, Speech and the Press" - our universal "soap box" is there for the world to see and I love it! In a recent spat on Twitter, Eric Schneiderman, New York State Attorney General, commented that, "The internet should be one of the greatest tools for democracy - but it's increasingly being turned into an opaque, pay-to-play playground." His sentiment was sparked by the fact that many celebrities employ the social media black market to inflate Twitter and Instagram followers.
The end of the internet, as we know it!
Nowadays we take the internet for granted - it's prevalent across our homes and businesses and we even have access to it whilst we're on the move. It's akin to turning on the tap and expecting water or switching on a light knowing that it will instantly illuminate. It's what prompted the then US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) chairman, Tom Wheeler, back in 2015, to propose a set of rules which would, in essence, preserve the internet as a free, open platform. Moreover, he argued in his petition that the internet should be regarded as a utility where ISPs would become "public utilities" and be governed by similar regulations as those already imposed upon gas, water and electricity suppliers.
As such, the pay-to-play premise doesn't seem to be limited to the social media black market either, because if ISPs in the US have their own way, then the whole dynamics of the internet may well change forever - more so, it may become the end of the internet as we know it! In particular, I'm referring to "net neutrality" and how the Trump administration has quashed the legislation implemented by Obama's presidency. It seems many net neutrality advocates are dismayed by the decision made by the FCC rescind the 2015 Open Internet Order - Trump's seething quest to overturn most, if not all, of Obama's legacy. Naturally, if the proponents of net neutrality fail to halt the decision, then it's feared that the rest of the world may follow.
The enemy of the state
Whilst the FCC's decision to repeal net neutrality has not yet been signed off, it remains largely controversial. Net neutrality means that ISPs must treat all data as equal, in turn, inhibiting data bias across content. For example, whether that's for simple website access, streaming TV from Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and such, app- or user data-specific - all data must be treated the same. And most countries have adopted this same stance to a greater extent.
Another controversial US law is about to be authorized by the Trump administration regarding internet surveillance. More specifically, it is proposed that an individual's use of the internet can be monitored in an "enemy of the state" type manner, without legal or official authorisation, giving authorities carte blanche access to poke around your use and primarily what you have been looking at. Now, I do understand how in certain circumstances such surveillance and prying eyes would be necessary, but ordinarily most people are good, right?
Until next time …
Nevertheless, those "in the know" understand how to instantiate a virtual private network and further bolster and disguise usage across the "dark" web. But, such use may be hindered if the US authorities have their way, since your ISP will be able to detect any type of traffic across your service. I'm confident that those who are wrongdoers will be caught by law enforcement authorities, but largely, us law-abiding citizens should have open, free and uninhibited access - don't you agree?
For me, the internet should remain an open and free platform - it's there for all and, despite the plethora of unsavoury content, the unscrupulous few and the potential for digital theft, we should not forget it's predominately a resourceful tool and should remain so.
So, this is where a "free forever" Dr. G signs off.
Originally published in Technically Speaking.