A draconian Internet censorship bill that has been long looming on the horizon finally passed the house of commons in the UK yesterday, legislating for government powers to restrict and filter any website that is deemed to be undesirable for public consumption. The "Digital Economy Bill" was rushed through parliament in a late night session last night after a third reading. In the wake of the announcement of a general election on May 6, the government has taken advantage of what is known as the "wash-up process", allowing the legislative process to be speeded up between an election being called and Parliament being dissolved. Only a pitiful handful of MPs (pictured below) were present to debate the bill, which was fully supported by the "opposition" Conservative party, and passed by 189 votes to 47 keeping the majority of its original clauses intact. The bill will now go back to the House of Lords, where it originated, for a final formal approval. – InfoWars
Dominant Social Theme: The Internet … finished?
Free-Market Analysis: The folks at Infowars – controversial as they are – often provide a service by revealing anti-freedom tendencies at work in the West today. We would like to think such efforts (they are certainly not alone) have paid off in an increased awareness of what's going on. It seems to us that numerous people are now aware of the centralizing tendencies of the modern Western sociopoliticial model – and thus we would hope the Internet will not die a whimpering death, the victim of 'Net censorship by governments such as Gordon Brown's.
In fact we don't think there is much chance of that. As we mentioned in a previous article on Chinese Internet censorship, there are numerous ways to get around the current kinds of censorship being applied. In any event, history shows us that censorship rarely works in the long term. In places like Cuba, the flow of information may be further restricted, but Cuba is an island. The West, recently anyway, has little history of overt sociopolitical censorship-by-fiat (versus the judicial kind), so it will be interesting to see how the powers-that-be in Britain attempt to apply censorship techniques aimed at the 'Net and justify it. In a previous article about Internet censorship in China, we quoted the BBC as follows:
"Just two years ago, only 5% of Chinese internet users knew that the government censored the Internet," Mr. Mao says. "But today, information flows faster and faster and people try to use different tools to spread information between social networks." "There are a minority of users who can use technology to bypass censorship. No more than one or two percent. More users – about 18% – have become second-hand information consumers from those savvy users." "So roughly 20% of Chinese Internet users now understand what 'Fan Qiang' ('circumventing the firewall') means, and they also have a strong determination to do so."
Stopping people evading the firewall is not easy, says Zhou Shuguang, an active Twitter user and blogger from the central province of Hunan. He cites the availability of free, open-source, peer-to-peer (P2P) software such as Tor. "Everybody can use it. If you can pay some money, you can get a virtual private network (VPN) account so you can get a faster connection to the Internet." According to Internet users in China, you can download the P2P software from the Tor website. However, the site itself has been blocked in China. Nevertheless, more and more so-called "mirror sites" – exact copies – are now emerging. "They can block one. Maybe five will appear tomorrow," Mr. Mao says.
In the West, as opposed to China, legal remedies are also more available (though less so than they once were). Anyway, we wonder just how much support the British Internet bill actually has – and why the Parliament chose to sneak it through in such an obvious way. Will vendors charged with enforcing it cooperate – as it can be seen as affecting their businesses adversely? At deadline, we found a Techdirt.com report of a British ISP determined to combat the bill:
UK ISP Says It Will Not Follow Digital Economy Bill Rules … As anger towards the Digital Economy Bill grows, some are fighting back against the bill in a variety of ways. ISP "Talk Talk," who had been vocally against the bill ever since it was first proposed, has apparently now announced that it will not follow the more draconian aspects of the law. In an official blog post by the company, it says that it will fight in court any attempt to force it to do things it feels are unwise, and will continue to fight against the law politically.
As we can see, the chances of British businesses and consumers meekly submitting to what is being planned is unlikely. Censorship rarely works as intended and what is censored by the state usually ends up being in more demand. In the case of Britain, we wonder how much more that previously open society can take before there is a backlash. Between the public cameras, the draconian fines and prison sentences for putting one's garbage in the wrong place or even defending oneself against home invasion, British society seems to us increasingly on the wrong track. Such a journey, history shows us, is not unstoppable, nor is the destination inevitable.