3 Signs the Internet is Becoming Less Free

Is the Internet becoming less like the Wild West? The three pieces of news below describe government action being taken on Internet activity. Are these isolated cases, or signs of a bigger trend to clamp down on Internet activity? You decide:

1. The White House wants to monitor your every click

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If you can, forget healthcare for a minute. There’s something a little sneakier passing under the radar. President Obama wants to “reverse a longtime federal policy banning the use of web technologies to track and compile personal information that can easily be utilized to invade privacy,” according to Judicial Watch. Ironically enough, it was the pro-Obama ACLU that pointed out this creepy federal move:

A 9-year-old policy forbids the U.S. government from implementing methods on federal internet sites that track an internet user’s every click, often identify the person and even build a database of each user’s viewing habits. This poses a serious threat to Americans’ personal information, according to the…American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The…“major shift in policy”…(was) covertly introduced in a vague, single-page announcement in the federal register. The group points out that Americans rely on the data posted on federal websites to research politics, medical issues and legal requirements and no American should have to sacrifice privacy or risk surveillance in order to access free government information.

However, with the snap of a finger the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) can reverse the longtime privacy rule if it determines that there is a “compelling need.” Since the OMB answers to the president and he clearly believes there is a compelling need, Americans should consider it a done deal.

2. A judge forced Google to reveal the identity of a blogger

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Mashable has the scoop:

Liskula Cohen is a Canadian-born model, best known for her appearances in fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, and Cleo. When she discovered that a blog called Skanks in NYC, hosted on Google’s Blogger, had been referring to her as “skank” and “old hag,” she decided to press Google (Google) to reveal the identity of the blogger through court, and the court has now decided in her favor.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden decided that “the thrust of the blog is that [Cohen] is a sexually promiscuous woman,” and that Cohen is entitled to sue the blogger for defamation.

This also means that Google will have to reveal the identity of the blogger in question; an important move that will set a precedent for future cases such as this one. The blogger in question has, without a doubt, been very offensive towards Cohen, as can be seen in the above quote. However, as we all know, the internet is full of offensive comments and broad negative statements of all kinds.

Internet legal policies are a work in progress. The blogger case, as Mashable pointed out, sets a precedent for upcoming cases. In a few years, talking smack online may become a rare privilege.

3. A leaked music track has lead to an international manhunt

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Image: ACC-TV

X Factor winner Leona Lewis was planning to release her new single, Don’t Let Me Down (featuring Justin Timberlake), sometime within the next few months. But hackers beat her to the punch. They recently leaked the track online by invading Syco’s (part of Sony BMG) computer systems.

Simon Cowell, who helped with the new album, called the police after discovering the leak. The Times Online writes:

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said it was the highest-profile hacking case the music industry had ever seen.

Jeremy Banks, the head of the organisation’s internet anti-piracy unit said: “IFPI is working with Syco and law enforcement agencies in the US and Europe to trace the individuals who stole the Leona Lewis/Justin Timberlake track.”

The police are understood to have been tracking the hackers for several weeks and are close to closing the case.

In other words: Simon Cowell calls the cops over a piece of leaked music. The cops stage an international manhunt as a result. Though this kind of international collaboration isn’t unprecedented–Pirate Bay comes to mind–it does highlight how responsive global law enforcement agencies have become to hacking attacks, not to mention record companies.

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  • Sadly we are not guaranteed a right to privacy. The government sites are within their control so they have every right to manage how they use that data. Luckily the browser software have added private surfing which will help somewhat. To truly be safe you need to use an anonymous proxy as well. Our government has a ton of information on us already so our surfing habits probably won’t give them a final nail in the coffin. On every sight we should focus on being safe with our information.

    Blogger- At least they required them to go through the courts. As long as the process follows legal channels we should be relatively safe. Part of the issue on the internet is the lack of verified identity. It keeps spam alive and well as wel as the troll mentality on many forums and blogs. It does create an issue if you create a blog to publish data or information that is legal but dangerous.

    Leaked music – We have a global task force to find someone who leaks music but have military laptops disappear and only the news covers it. I think we truly have our priorities out of whack. The music industry is struggling to find a new business model so they resort to the same tactics that every other monopoly has… use of government mandated force. Eventually the model will change and this will become less of an issue.

    The ones to worry about are the hackers who can infiltrate utility companies and shut down power or cable companies and shut down our high speed internet. Now that is a crime we should worry about :) (just kidding).

    The internet has become less like the Wild West but hasn’t reached 1984 yet. We the surfers have some tools on our side to protect ourselves. The good news is that technology will always evolve faster outside of government than it will inside government. Be free, be educated, be practical.