Sunday, 7 September 2014

Freedom V's Corporate Dictatorship

Over the last decade the rise of online content for both television stations and newspapers has seen a decline in sales and revenue for both. Most are now struggling to keep various parts of their industry running without slipping in to bankruptcy. It is a shame to see this happen, as we really need printed newspapers and free to air television more than ever before.

On the 1st of September 2014, the telecommunication companies in Australia approached the Federal government to propose a group effort to block illegal downloading sites. Their proposal is to block sites that allow access to illegally obtained material, reduce the downloading speed of anyone that continues to download illegal material and report the user to various entertainment industries so that they can take legal action. 

Putting aside your right to privacy, because I have no idea how these companies can share your personal details without breaking confidentiality agreements and laws; this is a dangerous avenue for these businesses to take. It is also a very self-serving idea, which they are not promoting.

Telstra have their own movie channel for people to watch. Illegal downloading means that people do not have to pay Telstra to watch the latest movies, which of course affects their revenue. So blocking sites such as the Pirate Bay are not so much in the national interest or to help the movie and music industries, it is to raise their own revenue.  Yet this is not something that they have been promoting.

My second concern is over allowing sites to be blocked in the first place. It will start with blocking illegal downloading sites, but how far will it spread? Once the public accepts blocks on various sites, they will be more willing to accept blocks on other sites that have no connection with illegal downloading. Of course we will be told that blocking additional sites are in our own best interest. But how can we know that? Will sites like Wikileaks be blocked to the general public? Will anti government sites be blocked? What about sites that complain about the telco’s blocking sites?

The blocking of any site is a direct attack on you freedom of speech. We may not like what some sites promote, but people have a right to express their opinion. Opposing views is how our parliament works. Australia uses the adversarial system in both parliament and in the courts system. How can we abide by that system if we allow people to block sites that adopt the same approach?

Australia is also a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It was ratified and enacted into our legal system many years ago. That means the governing bodies and the people of the country, including businesses must abide by the articles set forth in the UDHR. They include:
Article 1.
  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
 Article 2.
  • Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty
Article 19.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
They are just three articles from the UDHR. They state that we have freedom of opinion. That freedom cannot be taken away by governments or by corporations. Your freedom to opinion, does not grant you the right to download illegal material, but it does mean you have the right to view and assess by your own means the material that it holds. If you choose to download it, then it is your own fault if you get caught and you should be dealt with according to the law. 

The blocking of any site on the Internet is censorship. I am opposed to censorship. I have always believed in the right to freedom of opinion and speech. It should be up to the individual to decide what they want to read, watch or listen to. 

What scares me the most about the proposal from the telco’s is that they are not law making bodies. While the government has the right to censor information, corporations do not. The proposal from the telco’s is corporate censorship. They will decide what you can and cannot see. They will determine what is right for you. They will use it to shape your opinions.  

If the government agrees to this proposal there are some serious questions to ask. What sites will be blocked? Who will regulate the whole scheme? Who will pay for it? Will users have to pay more? Who can propose extra sites to be blocked? Will we told about the sites that are being blocked or will it be done in secret?

Without regulation the whole scheme is up for corruption and abuse. Business should not have the right to determine what you do and do not see. We live in a democracy, or at least we like to think that we do. If a plan like this gets through, it will only help to show that we are still moving to a corporate dictatorship. Where businesses run the country through control of the parliament. 

That is why we need free to air TV and printed newspapers. They are outside of the control of the Internet. No matter what any of the telco’s do, information vital to freedom of speech and opinion can still reach the masses. It may sound extreme, but if the online site of the newspaper attacks the telco’s for their corporate censorship it can be blocked by the telco's.

I know you may think that this is wild fantasy, or the rant to someone who just wants to continue to download illegal material. However, this is the concerns of a man who has see abuse of power throughout many different times and cultures. The abuse always starts with limiting the information that people can access. Once people cannot have their own opinion or view others, the only information that they get comes from those that control the information channels.

Remember, the whole scheme may start out innocent enough, but who can say who will be in power in 5 years time, and will they be trustworthy enough to keep our freedoms? 

The proposals put forth by the telecommunication companies has the potential to strip you of you freedoms. These are freedoms granted by the UDHR and are yours simply because you are human. We need to protect these rights. Is doing nothing now, because it doesn’t seem that big of an issue really worth the risk of losing all of your rights in the future?

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