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The end of the Internet

Photo by Sam Vlessing

The United States rigorously promotes liberal methodologies of freedom and equality. But its government’s recent decisions (or indecisions, rather) in regards to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) are bringing Internet censorship to a whole new level. Although these bills look as if they are specifically going to affect US domestic politics, they will undoubtedly have a significant influence on global Internet policies that transcend international boundaries.

SOPA is an American bill aimed to expand the ability of the U.S. government to fight the online trafficking of copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Its “sister bill”, PIPA, is another proposed law with the stated goal of increasing U.S. ability to curb copyright infringement outside of American borders.

Unlike the contemporary political system, where sovereign states are geographically separated from one another, cyberspace provides users with a borderless vacuum that, until recently, seemed to be infinite.

The U.S. is trying to change that.

Luckily for us, the U.S Congress shelved the passing of SOPA and PIPA due to public pressure. But the country is falling deeper into isolation and alienating the public, both inside and outside its borders.

So what exactly does this mean for Canadians?

Any website with an American domain name (i.e. anything that ends in .org, .com, and .net) will be treated as U.S. jurisdiction and will therefore be subject to American law. Since Canadian and U.S. copyright laws differ drastically, a website could be taken down for breaking U.S. law, even if it is haven’t breached any Canadian laws.

Freedom made the Internet great. It provided Wikipedia the ability to become the number one source for anyone, anywhere, to access information on any subject. The Internet’s openness and lack of restrictions gave way to video sharing websites such as YouTube and social media websites such as Facebook. It allowed users to connect, communicate and, most importantly, be almost completely free from government constraint.

Similar to George Orwell’s prediction in *1984*, the U.S. is trying to implement their own type of “mind police” by monitoring the international cyber arena for what they believe to be illegal acts.

Whatever happened to the Liberal idea of  “laissez-faire”, which argues for less government restraint and an increase in market freedom?

Global interconnectedness has led to an amount of economic prosperity never before experienced in history. Through SOPA and PIPA, the U.S. is seemingly trying to curb something that has been extremely beneficial for modern society.

Is it even ethical for the U.S .to monitor the Internet outside of its borders? The United Nations established itself on the premise of preserving and protecting individual state sovereignty. Just because the international cyber community is not as well established as the international political state system, it does not mean that the U.S. can exploit and impose their laws and regulations on everyone else who uses it.

Critics question the legitimacy of the two bills. Democratic Senator of Oregon Ron Wyden—a vocal critic of both SOPA and PIPA—criticized the failure of U.S. legislature to “give the public a say over issues that so profoundly affect their lives.”

I recently filled out an in-class questionnaire and the first question was: “How many hours a day do you spend online?” That question might have been appropriate in the 1990s, but in today’s day and age it would seem more logical to ask: “How many hours a day do you not spend online?”

The Internet has a profound effect on who we are and what we do. Not only do our lives revolve around it, the Internet has a tremendous effect on how our society operates. In my humble opinion, the United States does not have the right to censor something that the entire world benefits from.

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