Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Importance of the Internet

Today is an exciting time for the web. The importance of the free and open flow of information it provides is being brought to light by recent attempts around the world to limit the unfettered flow of communication that defines a functioning internet. Limiting internet channels of communication has been attempted in both the Eastern and Western nations alike. As a result, such attempts have helped raise awareness about why it is important to keep the internet free from restriction. This awareness has led to successful revolutions and it has raised questions about the validity of copyright and patent laws in the USA which date back to almost as far as the Constitution.

It has long been a controversy that China censors access to the internet, including blocking news media and communication outside of the country, earning this practice the nickname “The Great Firewall of China.” This has often been shamed in western media where most democratic nations value freedoms of speech, particularly in the United States.

Internet censorship in the Middle East has, perhaps, made the need for unrestricted internet access most apparent, as it applies to human rights. In 2009, popular social networks such as twitter and facebook played an important role in helping Iranian protesters communicate. While people around the world assisted protesters by providing them with first aid information due to the severe police brutality, the Iranian government shut down all internet access in the country. During this time, many Iranians living outside of the country could no longer communicate with or read updates about friends and relatives they were concerned for. These limitations further fueled protests in the area. Today, Iran continues to practice filtering internet communication and political tensions between citizens and government continue.

In December 2010, a revolution began in Tunisia when a street vendor set himself ablaze in protest. Once again, twitter and facebook played an important role while journalists were not allow to report on the situation. Protesters rallied against the censorship of speech on the internet after the arrest of a few key bloggers who voiced disapproval of the former regime. This led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a removal of many of the communication restrictions that were in place and inspired a revolution to begin in Egypt.

The Egyptian revolution of 2011 saw a complete shutdown of internet access in an attempt to limit communication between protesters. Once again, the attempts to censor civilians and journalists led to an intense backlash, ending with President Hosni Mubarak stepping down from his position as well as some other regime changes. It seems as though censoring the internet is a surefire way to rally protesters. The free and open communication of the internet has often since been credited with having made such revolutions a success.

Today, questions are being raised in the US about whether it is feasible, for the sake of enforcing copyright law, to restrict access to certain websites by blocking DNS routing. While this does not remove hosting of the website, it would make it slightly more difficult for the average user to access sites that are blocked. Web services, media and businesses make up a very large industry, proving many jobs in the modern economy. Because bills such as SOPA and PIPA threaten the open access which these industries rely on to thrive, a vast majority of those in the industry oppose these bills. Web presences from independent bloggers to Google and other large companies have voiced concerns, held blackout days and otherwise demonstrated that the need to keep the internet free and open is integral to the very livelihood of the web as well as the economy.

The internet offers opportunities to duplicate and share information on a scale never before seen in human history. It provides virtually free access to education, entertainment, more environmentally sound distribution of digital content, economic development and job creation as well as a growth in the creation and sharing of various arts.