Internet censorship: It did not start or end with PIPA/SOPA

In January 2012 the internet was in an uproar. 7000 sites voluntarily went dark (were unusable). Millions of internet users had their activities disrupted. All to draw attention to a pending legislation – in the Senate was SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and the equivalent PIPA in the House of Representatives.

In the end, after gaining national and international attention and a landslide of support, both measures failed to be passed. For most internet users the thought was that this was the beginning and end of Government intrusion onto the internet. That reasoning has always been false.

Long before there was a SOPA/PIPA attempt to grab power over what can and cannot be on the internet, Governments across the world have made efforts to derail what can and cannot be accessed. In some cases there is legitimate reason for such restrictions – nuclear weapons research, active attempts at terrorism, real acts of defamation and treason, ect. In other cases it is merely the attempt of Governments trying to isolate and remove thought it does not like.

Immediately some will think of China or Iran. Nations that actively seek to restrict what their citizens can access via the internet. These are accurate depictions of the problem and severity that it can go to. But what is not considered is what other nations, countries that are considered free or at least less restrictive, are doing.

Just one month after the failure of SOPA/PIPA, President Obama announced the Bill of Rights for the Internet. An set of guidelines that was neither asked for nor (debatably) needed. This set of restrictions, ostensibly for the good of internet users, garnered little attention – the steam was let out after SOPA/PIPA was blocked and the title of the Government action put many at ease. At the same time this was being announced, the US was actively seeking to restrict access and gather data on users just as were many other nations.

Just released from Google is the latest in their on-going 6 month reports on requests from Governments across the world on restricting access, and removal of websites and content. America is prominent in multiple categories.

Content removal requests from America were second on the list of nations with 187 requests from July 2011 to December 2011. The truly troubling fact about this is that the number of requests increased by more than 100% from the first half of 2011 (92 requests). This is coupled with 6,321 requests for Google user data (which covered more than 12,000 users that Google provided) – which represents 34.6% of the 18,250 requests made in the 2nd half of 2011 across the globe.

All of that just in time to match up with the proposed expansion of Government power that SOPA/PIPA was hoping to grant.

To put this in perspective, in July to December 2010, Google first reported 6 US court requests to remove 1,100 items of content that it complied with. In the first half of 2011 the number of requests were up 70%. By the second half of 2011 the increase was another 103% on top of the initial 2011 numbers.

Since Google started to report requests by the Government of user data – July thought December 2009 – the US alone has gone from 3580 requests per half year to 6321 (2nd half of 2011). More than 23,300 users account information have been given to the Government in 2011 alone (info on users only started to be reported in 2011).

That’s a trend, and an alarming one.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different,” Dorothy Chou, the search engine’s senior policy analyst, said in a blogpost. “We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”

Is all this activity nefarious? Of course not. Some actions are legal and in protection of civilians and users. But the rate of Government attempts to intervene with the internet, and gather data, in conjunction with legislation targeting enormous power for the Government to remove swaths of users and content should not be taken lightly.

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” ― Harry S. Truman, August 8, 1950

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