We believe that the Internet should be as open and neutral as possible. But, nowadays, there are as many retractors as supporters of this argument. That is why in this article we try to summarize the most common arguments and counterarguments that defend both points of view.
As said, we think that there is no need for extra control over the Internet. The main reason is that controlling anything indirectly means knowing what is being done. And that would imply that governments or whoever applied that control would be invading people’s privacy, which is not acceptable. Besides, controlling more would mean censoring more content, which would go against the freedom of speech.
Furthermore, any bad or illegal action made on the Internet has a material consequence, and it is in the physical world, not in the cyberspace, were those actions should be persecuted.
Once explained our vision on this matter, we will try to explain all of the arguments in favor and against the freedom on the Internet in the most objective way possible.
Arguments againt a new control over the Internet
The control over the Internet can go against the freedom of speech. In some countries,the majority of them arabian, the government try to have control over the Internet by controlling the ISPs (Internet Service Provider). This controls started because these governments were looking to ban all the information going against the islamic religion or denying what the government said.
The Internet is not a country nor a state, it cannot be limited by borders or rules applied to states. Consequently it makes no sense to control the entrance to the Internet the same way as border officers and customs do.
In the recent years, thanks to the social web, almost everyone is able to publish content on the web. That content can be used for enterprises to make profit but also can be used to improve our way of living. If the control on the Internet is more strict, some junk content would be deleted but also some useful content.
More control over the Internet can result into having more difficulties while using it as a tool for learning. Some topics like sexuality or drugs could be banned by some filters making more difficult the learning process to those users who are looking for resources.
Freedom of expression: the cyberspace was created to accommodate all the information that users wanted to introduce into it. Therefore, it is not sensible to censor something that was born precisely as the only solution to the existing lack of freedom of expression in the physical world.
The structure of the cyberspace itself makes it impossible any attempt of ordering. Hence, trying to introduce rules in Cyberspace is veritably impossible because its structure impedes the effectiveness of any systematisation. However, the Internet is not unregulable itself and there are more and more admitted ways to control the network.
The Internet does have indeed a set of rules. That is why a person can go to prison if he/she owns for instance CP (child porn). This is because there is a difference between owning information and sharing information. The same way, there is a difference between talking about blowing up a building and really blowing up a building (the first one is legal and the second one is not).
The share of information should be free and neutral, sharing is the Internet. However, when you own physically CP on your compute,r you are subjected to the laws of your country since it does limit legally what physical things are legal or not.
The numerous technological advances have created a cyberspace where everyone can anonymously express himself/herself and communicate without fear of being heard by others. On top of this, there should not be any further restrictions on this anonymity nor willingness to use it for another legal issues (for example criminal detection).
Information is a fundamental and irreplaceable right which is far beyond other rights in the physical space such as intellectual property rights. Any information you enter in the network is in the public domain. This should therefore make it absolutely worthless any attempt to impose copyright in the network or to block or restrict free flow of information all over the globe.
The Internet exists thanks to the resources given from not-for-profit public-benefit corporations that are publicly scrutinised and private investments. Thus, governments cannot legislate, ban or control private technologies made for private use in a private environment.
It is true that the government does regulate some specific private activities that happen between two private individuals. But in this case regulating those would imply the government spying since here the activity would be someone typing on his/her keyboard on the privacy of his/her home. Thus, violating the privacy of an individual.
What is more, if we take the activity as the transfer of information it would go against the Article 19 of the Human Rights.
The World Wide Web’s creator, Tim Berners-Lee, defends that the net should be neutral. In other words, no other controls should be created and furthermore he demands that “the ISPs and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or changing differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”
The article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.”, consequently any action taken to ban, censor, control etc. the information of the Internet or to limit the access to it, is a clear violation of the human rights.
Although the Internet was born due to military circumstances it soon became the main tool to share knowledge and discover new ideas. Thanks to the Internet we people are informed nearly on real time basis of natural disasters, science discoveries etc. Earth has become bigger and also more accessible thanks to the internet. Sadly, the Internet has also made it easier for criminals, perverts, terrorists … to feel safe, home or understood by others since they can connect to their kind.
However, there has been always evil on the human race. And it is not feasible to sacrifice those many good things that the Internet gives as a neutral, free of speech place at the expense of some few.
Internet is a platform where information is exchanged. Sometimes an argument for censorship the Internet is that it’s a powerful tool used by criminals, terrorists and people that don’t respect Human Rights to exchange information among themselves. But the Internet is only a communication tool. The wrongdoing will continue despite the censorship, they will just use another communication tool like a postal letter. Censorship slightly harms wrongdoing but neither stops it nor eliminates the potential problems that originate the wrongdoing.
When talking about protect the right to intellectual property it doesn’t mean that every connection should be monitored, which would attempt against the privacy of individuals, but to report to the authorities about the domains that link to content under copyrights laws. Legislative body would be in charge of deciding if the content should be removed from the page, for violating intellectual property or not. Sharing information isn’t illegal, but sharing content you don’t own is. Therefore there’s no need not add control to Internet, the loyalty and responsibility of the users should be enough to have a peaceful network.
Controlling the Internet would mean to invade anyone’s privacy, which is never acceptable. According to the twelfth article of the UDHR “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”, so it makes no sense to create laws that will control what anyone does on the Internet if afterwards the same laws have to protect people from being spied.
Forcing an ISP to install a complicated, costly filtering system would violate the requirement to strike a fair balance between protection of intellectual property rights and the ISP’s freedom to conduct a business.
Controlling the internet has its benefits but also has some disadvantages like the cost of implantation of the system in charge to control the traffic and the reduction on the speed. In some trials in Australia it has been seen that trying to control the traffic reduces the speed of the connection between a 2% to a 75%. The costs of the necessary equipment and its implementation would be paid by increasing the amount of money each user pays monthly. This would have a negative result in the economy of each Internet user.
Controlling the Internet means that someone of the law enforcement forces is actually using his/her work time to control the flow of information that is in reality uncontrollable (not taking into account the freedom of speech issue) instead performing tasks that can actually help to improve citizens’ security like prosecuting thefts, burglaries, money laundering, drug trafficking…
An argument for the Internet control is that children are exposed to inappropriate content like pornography or other offensive contents. The control of the information that children are receiving through the Internet is rather an issue of the parents than a government issue. Parents should decide how they deal with the viewing of such information according to their moral approach on the issue. It should be a parents’ decision instead of a decision of the state. The state has only the duty to enable tools for parents to monitor what their children are viewing.
Most of the opponents in favour of the censorship feel that parental supervision is not the best way to keep kids safe online because it’s difficult — if not impossible — to oversee a child’s access to the Internet all the time. That is fault. Parents can turn to software and hardware solutions to solve this problem. These programs usually have a series of options parents can select to limit the sites their children can access. These options tell the program which filters to enable. Most Web filters use two main techniques to block content: Blacklists and keyword blocking. A blacklist is a list of Web sites that the Web filter’s creators have designated as undesirable. With keyword blocking, the software scans a Web page as the user tries to visit it. The program analyzes the page to see if it contains certain keywords. If the program determines the Web page isn’t appropriate, it blocks access to the page. Using a firework is another choice, as they act as a barrier between the Internet and your computer network.
Censoring can turn into a never-ending series of prohibition. At first a censorship over certain issues like child porn, terrorist ideas and methods diffusion and some others issues could be enforced without a lot of resistance of public opinion, furthermore there could be widespread support for these actions. But then several groups would start lobbying for further censorship on issues in which they are sensitive: companies would try to inhibit bad publicity, investors with interests in fossil fuels would try to eliminate information on Climate Change and a lot of other examples… So a big questions arise: Where is the frontier of sensible censorship? Who settles it?
It is commonly thought and I think it is especially true among adolescents that a prohibition causes attraction and more expectation that it could have caused without any prohibition or censorship. If you ban information or data and this prohibition is known to the public it will generate interest among certain groups of people. Some people find something attractive in looking for things that are banned.
There are no examples of cases where the Internet is controlled in a good way nowadays. Most of the examples are indeed quite frightening. According to a Harvard study, at least 18,000 websites are blocked from within mainland China, including 12 out of the Top 100 Global Websites (Google, Facebook, Twitter…) and all due to the interests of the chinese government. The main reason is to control and block all kind of social and political commentaries and discussions of all the Chinese inhabitants (so that the way of thinking that could cause a revolution is stopped at its root) with a very advanced firewall called the “Great Firewall of China”. They even manipulate the information that comes from outside the nation. This goes against one of the human rights, the freedom of speech, and therefore is certainly considered not admissible. This types of initiatives are more related to dictatorships rather than democracies. There are also countries, like Myanmar, where the government allegedly keeps Internet cafés under surveillance with computers that automatically take screenshots every few minutes.
Controlling the Internet is a huge task that would require tons of money, several years and lots of discussions many people coming from different areas of the society (computer experts, politicians, people in general,…). There is no solution that would satisfy everyone. Furthermore, the success of such a project involves the collaboration of every country in the world (otherwise, people from a country would just try to access web pages from a nation where this kind of rules have not been implemented). But, as the problem statement explains, there are many countries in the world that are totally opposed to it. As a consequence, there is no way of controlling the Internet.
Even if a project like the one explained before is launched and finally implemented, there would be people that, somehow, will be able to break this rules (virtual private networks or proxy sites to be anonymous, as an example). Therefore, it is better to focus on initiatives to teach people how to surf the Internet.
For example: The mission of the Censorware Project is to educate people about Web filtering software and practices.
It would be absolutely catastrophic for the free flow of commerce and information worldwide. Unfortunately, many repressive regimes are not very satisfied with how the Internet is currently working, and desperately want to be able to use the power of the UN to tax, regulate and censor the Internet. Needless to say, it would be a disaster. They seek to release unprecedented economic regulations such as mandates for rates, terms and conditions for currently unregulated traffic exchange agreements known as “peering” or control and regulate the international flow of information in order raise money.
A big consequence caused by the attempt to control and regulate the current free flow of commerce and information worldwide would be the loss of many Internet users due to the feeling of insecurity and, for sure, the bankrupt of many companies that base their main strategy on the usage of Internet (Amazon, Google, eBay, …).
There are many governments that currently spy on their inhabitants (like Iran, China, India, Brasil,… and many others that we do not know; and even spy on the rest of the world, as USA or UK). However, allowing the UN to control the Internet would be like having a global government with the rights to spy on us on a bigger scale. The Internet is nowadays part of our lives: we shop, we socialise, we study, we work… using the Internet and this kind of control would imply the UN to own a huge amount of private and sensible information about us. Who would control all that information? What are they going to do with it? Who can ensure that all the information will be never hacked?
Giving the right to the UN to control the Internet is the same as installing cameras in every corner of every public and private places, even our own houses, as if we were living inside the house of Big Brother. Would not it be crazy?
Arguments in favor of a new control over the Internet
The control could be used to stop the spreading of false or harmful ideas about sexuality or drugs. For example, tutorials on how to make your own homemade drugs could be banned.
Criminals communicate through this technology. Thus, further control could be crucial for the detection of any potential terrorist attack. The upshot of an uncontrolled Cyberspace could be disastrous.
This is an exception, and clearly there are already quite a lot departments of defense in charge of it.
The Internet may not be a country, but still it’s used by the members of a well-defined society. That’s society has defined a set of laws, which are the result of an agreement of all the individuals that form that community. Therefore the content available for a specific region should respect the laws of the nation where the content is being consumed and if it doesn’t, that media has to be filtered.
Sometimes, it is said that government should not legislate or try to control technologies from private initiatives. But the government does in fact regulate (and in some cases control) activities that happen between two private individuals, specially if they involve a monetary interchange but not only in this case. This is done not to avoid completely the interchange but to pursue a common benefit (in this example collect taxes to pay all the public services that the population as a whole enjoys). Going deeper the government regulates the emissions that a diesel engine can emit, so it is regulating a technology that is transferred from a private association of individuals to a private individual whose intention is to use it in the private sphere. The regulation (control) of this transfer is intended to stop the transfer of technologies/ideas that cause harm to the community (emissions of greenhouse gases).
There are sites which contain illegal content, such as extreme violence, torture or child porn. There are lots of sites in the “Deep Web” which are known to be used to drug deals and other activities. That has to be controlled.
We believe the problem here essentially isn’t that those kind of sites do exist, it is more like there is people who create and consume them. It is correct to control people who are known to use those kind of sites, as their content is unacceptable, but the average user doesn’t have to be spied because there are a number of perverts out there. We believe the root of that problem is the education of those people, which goes beyond the scope of this debate.
In order to talk about the right of opinion and expression we must first talk about the freedom of speech and its limitations, in fact, this right is guaranteed provided that the speech doesn’t involve incitement, false statements of fact, obscenity, child pornography, threads and speech owned by others. Therefore, the Internet should salvage this right as is. In order to do so, it should be ensured that all the mentioned harmful content is removed or filtered. That’s one reason why control over the Internet is needed.
Every freedom we have, every one of them, was given to us by congressional regulation. It’s called the Bill of Rights. That is what gives us our freedom and yet it was from the government. It was government regulation. That is why the Internet should ruled by those rights and has to be controlled and limited as same as our rights are.
Some people defend that the “responsibility of the user should be enough to have a peaceful network”. But., would you leave your house open and all of your belongings unwatched in the sake and responsibility of your neighbours? If so, why don’t you do so? If don’t, then why should I trust on the loyalty and responsibility of an anonymous and virtually untouchable user to do what is right?