As followup to our coverage of the federal censoring of Iran’s PressTV website last month, we brought you the first part of our list of legal precedents for internet censorship yesterday. In Part II, we will cover the developments since the end of the Clinton administration.

The important point of all this is for Americans to wake up and reclaim the internet as a public domain space that is rapidly being encroached up by the private sector. What I describe has only happened because we have been kept oblivious as a digital enclosure campaign has taken place to benefit wealthy tech firms that the vast majority of the public loathes.

1998: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Justification: IT’S THE NEW CENTURY!

Bill Clinton closed his term with everyone still high on the vapors generated by the web. This allowed for all sorts of onerous legislation that was merely dipped in the word soup of Internet vocabulary. DMCA further penalizes copyright infringement by focusing on “digital piracy.” This involves prosecuting people for merely using, downloading, or developing computer programs that can circumvent digital copyright protection systems, also known as Digital Rights Management (DRM).

Not only does this authorize the invasive policing of what you have on your hard drive, it also outlaws the certain uses of an entire language. If I write a piece of code, that is not just a component of a computer program, it also is a written sentence in a particular language, meaning it is automatically protected by the First Amendment. Every computer program you ever use is, in one sense, a digital book of coding sentences interacting with one another to produce a certain outcome inside the computer’s hard drive brain, just like the sentence you are reading right now functions so to generate an outcome in your organic brain.

Consider this analog-era technological parallel. It is extremely easy from people to use a photocopier or scanner to infringe upon someone’s copyright very rapidly. Do we police people when they photocopy a copyright-protected book at the library? Can you imagine how insane such an enforcement scenario actually would be?

Along with this mushrooming of surveillance, the law also expanded the boundaries and borders of American copyright laws, a form of soft-power imperialism that allows American policing in other countries in ways never dreamed of previously.

2001: Patriot Act

Justification: OSAMA BIN LADEN!

Listing the number of legislators who said they never actually read the entirety of this bill would take up just as much space as a list of the nightmares this created. All norms of privacy, free speech, privileged communications between clients and healthcare provders or lawyers, and probable cause were steamrolled in the name of “a war on terrorism,” which Gore Vidal once equated with trying to wage “a war on dandruff.” Invasive searches of your library records? Increased surveillance? Allowance for the use of a biased, subjective word like “terrorism” that has been used to blackball and jail everyone from pro-Palestine academics to radical defense attorneys? All this and more thanks to these patriot games.

2011: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA)

Justification: SAVE THE STARVING MILLIONAIRE ENTERTAINERS (AGAIN)!

In yet another instance of the entertainment industry throwing a fit and trying to justify an absurd level of censorship, Congress tried to create a blacklist of websites that ISPs would block users from accessing, ostensibly to only be targeting those that serve as platforms for media piracy. But the rubric was so broad and extensive that it would easily extend to any “undesirable” webpage. The bill was ultimately sunk by a grassroots protest movement. In the long run, however, this seems to have been picked up again. Starting in late 2016, the major social media and search engine tech firms have manipulated their traffic metrics so that these undesirable websites saw a dramatic drop-off in their unique hits.

2018: Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA)

Justification: SHUT DOWN THE DIGITAL WHORE HOUSE PROSTITUTING LITTLE KIDS!

There’s no denying that various forms of non-consensual and coercive sexual violence sadly are perpetrated against the most vulnerable people in our society. That’s inexcusable. However, all of these malicious practices have been illegal, though sometimes not adequately enforced, since the Book of Leviticus.

Simultaneously, the internet has been a godsend for sex workers. Thanks to the extraordinarily low overhead for running a webpage publishing digital video and photography, it became possible for anyone with a decent laptop to run a wholly-independent business where they could operate a small sex venue on their own terms, be it little as pictures or as much as full services, permanently excluding the mobster and exploitative pimp from the equation. They quite literally figured out how to have fully-consensual and enjoyable sex as a high-paying job for the rest of their lives. Why radicals like Chris Hedges find this so contemptuous and wrong baffles me. If there’s one thing that the Left doesn’t need, it is a return to the Victorian prudishness of certain snobby katheder socialists that are the perpetual skunks at a garden party. Didn’t these weirdos read Emma Goldman’s writings on Free Love?

FOSTA/SESTA has targeted sex workers and the various internet venues they utilize. Websites like Backpage and Craig’s List have either been permanently shut down or censored to stop sex in exchange for money from being advertised. People have been incarcerated for somehow sex trafficking themselves. Parental custody can be revoked, sex offender registration can be required, and misery is mandated by enforcing these laws. Most disturbingly, it revives the Clinton-era effort to make Internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon liable as publishers for what is posted on their platforms, which grants these borderline-monopolist telecom companies a private license to censor without any public checks-and-balances. Again, this is all because of fully-consenting sex.

2021: Consolidated Appropriations Act

Justification: COVID-19!

Nestled into the second stimulus bill were a bunch of foreign policy spending measures targeting Venezuela, China, Iran, and Russia. Within these provisions are measures around “cyber warfare” that probably will end up serving as justification for further censorship akin to what has happened with PressTV.

Ongoing: Net Neutrality

As it currently stands, the web is a neutral place and users access every site with an equal level of speed. When you encounter sites that lag more than others, that is because they are hosted on servers with low capacity levels. But ISPs want to create a preferential system that would allow them to privilege access based on a tiered-based fee system they extract from individual sites. In other words, it’s a Mafia hustle run by Silicon Valley. There’s some signs that the Biden administration could use the FCC to regulate this issue but there’s still plenty of vulnerability here.


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