By Albert Williams
In America, a government-brewed controversy has left many wondering if the internet deserves to be regulated by some form of unseen cyber law enforcement. We should begin by looking at the internet in a empathetic light. Ever since its creation, its sole purpose has been to serve us, to help us access and upload all sorts of vital information. Yet it has been abused and exploited for information because of a perceived safety aspect.
The internet, in no way, meant to do bad for us. It’s a place for expression, a place for “individuals to speak and receive information, participate in political and democratic processes, and share knowledge and ideas.” We live in a country where free speech has been, long before the internet, established as one of our “God given rights.” When we access the internet on American soil, shouldn’t we still be allowed to enjoy the freedom of expression? Shouldn’t we be free of government censorship and “content gatekeepers” alike? The ability to browse and access all publicly posted internet content is a freedom that many internet users assume they have. How can the internet become a space that acknowledges this freedom when there’s monitoring and restrictions involved?
From the attempted oppression of SOPA, an uprising has formed. The CDT(Center for Democracy & Technology), in support of this uprising, “set out a positive vision for the Internet and an agenda that captures the imagination of the electorate, one in which they can envision their future and that of their children.” They formed a “declaration of internet freedom;” something to support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet Policy. The declaration seeks to establish five key principles: expression, access, openness, innovation, and privacy. Expression calls for an internet with zero censorship. Access is the promotion of universal access to fast and affordable networks. Openness asks to keep the internet an open network where every user can “communicate, write, read, watch, speak, learn, create and innovate,” whereas the principle for innovation wants to protect the freedom of creation without permission–no blocking of new technologies and no punishing innovators for their users’ actions. The actual establishment of these principles would help make sense of what is to be done on the internet. People could understand that they have all the right to upload or say whatever they’d like to the internet without being silenced, and realize that a internet with these declared freedoms is quite beautiful. https://www.cdt.org/blogs/kevin-bankston/0207moment-movement-declaration-internet-freedom
Enter Aaron Swartz, a person who saw and contributed beauty to the internet, and also experienced the brunt of internet regulation and law enforcement. Being a co-founder of Reddit, he had a natural talent for programming. With “an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues,”(Wiki) Swartz actively sought to learn about the real-world uses of the internet for change by launching an organization known as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, he became a “research fellow” at Harvard under the topic of Institutional Corruption, and founded Demand Progress, the online group responsible for launching the spearheaded campaign against the Internet Censorship bills, SOPA and PIPA. Not to mention, Swartz developmentally set the standard for data sharing on the World Wide Web. On January 19, 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police upon state breaking-and-entering charges, after downloading academic journal articles from the massive digital library, http://www.jstor.org.” In federal court, he had been charged with: “two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a cummulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution, and supervised release.” (Wiki) Two years later and two days after the prosecution had turned down his lawyer’s second attempt at a plea bargain, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment; he had hung himself.
The case of Aaron Swartz is powerful. His family wrote, “He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place.” With internet regulation, the United States Government seemed to have robbed and cheated this nation of a figure who had the potential to revolutionize American and Worldwide politics with futuristic utilization of the internet. How could such a breach of information have to result in the killing of such an undeserving person? http://aaronsw.com/ Information is what the internet will always be about, so why does our government get to punish people for accessing information in a place where accessing information is all that is supposed to be done. Maybe, information accessible by the internet, that our Government is willing to punish us for doing with it what we please, shouldn’t be on the internet. If keeping all punishable information off the internet is possible, then we have no need for such regulation nor for such punishment.