20 of the Internet’s top activist participate in enormous Reddit thread to discuss Internet freedom

// October 25th, 2012 // Internet


Internet globe held in hands representing freedomYesterday, twenty of the Internet’s top activists participated in one enormous Reddit thread to discuss Internet freedom, answering AMA questions such as “what’s so bad about TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)” and “does Internet freedom mean I’m m free to download pirated games”.

TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) of course, was a hot topic and the answers supplied by the experts were indeed thought provoking.  The rock-star panel of Internet celebrities included Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Techdirt founder Mike Masnick, Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh, Elliot Ness and Graeme Bunton from Tucows, as well as executives from the ACLU, Personal Democracy Media, Public Knowledge, OpenMedia, and five different members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Here’s a sampling of the questions and responses Redditers received:


So, please explain what the TPP is and why it is bad.

[Open Media] The TPP (which stands for Trans-Pacific Partnership) is a multi-nation trade deal that seeks, among other things, to rewrite the global rules on intellectual property enforcement. Those rules would likely supersede the rules of any participating nation.

One of the main problems with the TPP is that it’s being negotiated behind closed doors. But from leaked documents, we know that the TPP would give Big Media new powers to lock users out of our own content and services, provide new liabilities that might force ISPs to police our online activity, and give giant media companies even greater powers to shut down websites and remove content at will. It also encourages ISPs to block accused infringers’ Internet access, and could force ISPs to hand over our private information to big media conglomerates without appropriate privacy safeguards.

[EFF] Whoever controls information has control over the people. This is most true while access to legal text is being negotiated and this is not the way that democratic societies should operate in the 21st century. Extending the principles of open innovation to the public sector is a particularly important transition towards transparency, information flow, due process and government accountability. International negotiations, such as TPP, ACTA, and the Canada-EU Trade Agreement should learn from this and be placed in the same path.

Many governments around the world have committed to the open government principles published in September 2011 (http://www.opengovpartnership.org/open-government-declaration). Many of the TPP countries have already signed the principles and are supposedly in a transition phase from commitment to action. We do not expect anything different in regard to international negotiations. Countries should look at implementing the principles not just in regard to internal spending and policy, but also to take out the closet these back door agreements, which have great potential to actually effect theirs citizens. See more https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/07/21st-century-agreement-is-really-best-way

In the case of TPP, 600 folks from private industry are allowed to see the text. But public interest organizations are not. We decided to not be cleared advisors, since we would need to firm a confidentiality agreement that would require us not to talk about core aspects of the TPP. Trade negotiations that affect public interest and digital freedoms must be informed by society.

Do petitions make any difference?

[Reddit co-founder] Yes. But beyond that, everyone should have their elected officials on speed dial. Ben Huh turned me on to an app that’s useful here in the States called Contact Congress.

Remember: your elected officials work for you. You’re their boss, calling them up to give them performance reviews and inform them about things they should be looking out for (and why it’s important).

What do you think the internet will look like 10 years from now?

[Open Media] If we all stay active and engaged, fight back against threats like the TPP’s Internet trap, and keep looking forward, it’ll be whatever users choose to make it.

What is your stance on piracy? Do you think piracy is a legitimate action in free internet?

[TechDirt] I think it’s important to recognize that “piracy” almost always is a symptom of the real problem, rather than the problem itself — but too often people focus on fighting the symptom, rather than solving the underlying problem. We have enough historical research to see this over and over and over again. Adrian John’s book “Piracy” and Matt Mason’s book “The Pirate’s Dilemma” both drive home this point with tremendous clarity on a historical basis — each and every time we see a rise in “piracy” it tends to be because the technology enables something new that the public wants, and the powers that be haven’t figured out how to make use of the technology, so they fail to deliver what people want in a reasonable way. More recently, the massive (and incredibly thorough) “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” report put together by Joe Karaganis has shown how this applies to plenty of today’s piracy as well.

So, in the end, it’s not about whether or not piracy is a “legitimate action.” It’s simply a fact of nature. It’s happening — and historically no amount of “increased enforcement” has ever been shown to be long term effective in fighting it, though it often has been shown to have tremendous negative side effects. What has worked, is figuring out how to make use of the technology in positive ways to provide what people want. In other words: treat the problem, not the symptom, and amazing things happen.

Of course, in the interim, all you hear is how the piracy itself is evil. But that’s an old story. We heard it when the printing press came out. When the player piano came along. When radio was invented. When TV showed up. When cable TV entered the market. When the photocopier was invented. When the VCR was introduced. When the DVR became popular. When the first MP3 players hit the market. And, of course, when online streaming became popular. And yet, historically, we see the same thing every time. The “piracy” was really a result of people seeing this new enabling technology and thinking “wow, that lets me do something new and wonderful, so I’m going to do that.” And those that it disrupt cry “piracy!”

But in the long run, as people learn and adapt, we see each of those new technologies (with the possible exception of the player piano…) opening up tremendous and amazing new markets, often leading to significantly more growth than what existed in the old market. So it’s not about whether or not it’s a “legitimate action.” It’s a signal from the market that they want something more, and historically, it’s been shown that it’s quite productive to figure out how to serve what the market is asking for.

My favorite example of this, by the way, remains the VCR, which famously was described by the MPAA’s Jack Valenti as “the Boston strangler” to the movie industry. 5 years after he said that at a Congressional hearing, the home video market was worth more than the box office market for the movie studios. So there’s that.

I would like to know what limits you think are proper (if any) for internet freedom

[Public Knowledge]I think the term “internet freedom” translates generally to “freedom of expression.” This freedom has allowed societies to fight political oppression and many other social ills. The Internet is a medium that dramatically increases citizens’ power to use the medium to amplify their messages to a worldwide audience. Hence the emphasis on the importance of preserving Internet freedom.

However, the same limits that apply to free expression rights might also apply to free expression on the Internet. For instance laws place limits on the freedom of expression. You cannot use this freedom to incite violence or to defame someone. We can argue about the exact contours of these limits. But we generally agree that limits can exist. The same limits might also extend to free expression on the Internet.

I think free expression is a right and the Internet is a medium that facilitates that right.

Because the medium is becoming so vital to so many things we do – banking, education, social and political dialogue, commerce etc. – the ability to be connected effectively translates to the ability to exercise your free expression rights as well as the ability to participate effectively in society.

What do you consider the #1 threat to our Internet freedoms as they stand today?

[ACLU] I think the greatest threat to internet freedom today in the United States is the same as it has been for a while: the argument that traditional constitutional protections should not apply or need to be somehow relaxed because the internet is a unique medium with unique problems. That’s come up in the copyright context, and in the free speech context more generally. It’s dangerous thinking.

U.S. Courts have recently ruled that it is constitutional for the government to force an individual to decrypt an encrypted hard drive. How do compelled decryption cases such as United States v. Fricosu affect the future of the Internet and privacy?

[EFF] Compelled decryption is still a hot topic with only a few court cases setting precedent. You mentioned US v. Fricosu, where a district court in Colorado ruled that Fricosu could be forced to decrypt information on a seized computer. A separate 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case in Atlanta, however, ruled that the 5th Amendment protected a suspect from being forced to decrypt the contents of several computers.

For a lot more juicy detail, EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury has an excellent blog post about these two cases and the nuance of privacy/decryption. Despite the disappointing Fricosu ruling, the larger point is that we are continuing to fight for your constitutional rights in these compelled decryption cases. Luckily the case is specific enough not to have a huge ripple effect.

Isn’t “internet freedom” one giant oxymoron?

[Tucows] In fact “Internet freedom” is more redundant than oxymoronic. A “closed Internet” is not consistent with the Internet being simply a series or protocols that people and companies choose to adhere to. This inherent openness is what scares nation-states, law enforcement, IP interests, telcos and other entrenched interests. Their fear manifests itself in an ongoing desire to control the freedom inherent in the Internet. This is similar to every other communication technology from the printing press forward, but much more so.

You can check out the entire thread on Reddit.

Sources: Reddit
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