“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.
The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in the eyes of the big Internet companies — unstoppable. According to Seamus Kraft, a former Congressional aide intimately involved with stopping the attempted hijacking:
“Enter Team Issa, just before Thanksgiving 2011. A markup for the legislation had been scheduled for mid-December. We had three weeks to interdict a scheme that had been in the works for years. And the schemers had all the money and all the guns.
“Team Issa decided that its only hope was to alert the world — and allow a counterforce to mobilize and tell their government how crippling passing this legislation would be. We went into a whiteboarding session — me and three developers — walked into a room and walked out two days later, bleary eyed.
“What we had developed, nicknamed Madison, is something that would allow everyone to participate, constructively, in the writing of bills. Basically, we hacked together a way that brings in everyone who had been shut out of the process.”
An upshot of that event, not so incidentally, is OpenGovFoundation.org, underwritten mostly by the Knight Foundation and headed by Kraft, bringing constituent light into the legislative and rulemaking process. For his work Kraft was dubbed one of “the 20 most innovative people in democracy 2012” by Techcrunch.com). Kraft:
“We used this program during the legislative markup. Bills live or die by their markup. We broadcast a stable video stream of the proceedings… while following line by line. We used it to give other user proposals thumbs up and thumbs down. Everything from a Congressional markup was modeled online. And we used it to identify who was taking what out and who was putting what in… tearing away the shroud of secrecy and injecting accountability.
“Citizens actually could participate and make their voices heard. At last, someone authentically had invited all the stakeholders into the room. Rep. Issa and other champions, notably Chaffetz and Polis, used this mechanism to ask hard questions and access the know how. It was revolutionary.
“Issa and his allies — backed, online, in real time, by real experts — threw everything they had at the proponents during two marathon days of hearings. Issa proposed amendments to this high-handed bill that the proponents just couldn’t even respond to.
“The proponents hadn’t anticipated sustained or sophisticated opposition. Here they were, in front of the whole world, confronting egregious injustices baked into the proposed legislation.
“Issa kept hammering the committee all day Thursday and Friday. By the end of the day Friday, when it was clear that Issa was just warming up, the chairman suspended the markup. Congress recessed for Christmas.”
That recess gave the forces of Freedom for the Internet (and of speech, the press, and assembly), of whom Aaron Swartz was by the most credible accounts the most important leader, time to rally. Big players, like Wikipedia, Reddit, and Google, began to organize for a Jan. 18, 2012 Web uprising. The snowball started by Aaron Swartz over a year before had become an avalanche.
Issa and his allies provided the Freedom Fighters a clean focal point. Kraft:
“Jan. 18 was chosen because Issa, as chairman, had scheduled a Government Oversight Committee hearing to bring in the experts for that date. With Wikipedia preparing to close shop that day, Google draping its logo in black, and so forth, much of the Internet would be dark… or loudly protesting. But the video stream of the House of Representatives would be live. The combination could have caused the largest “viral video” in history.
“SOPA’s proponents knew that such a campaign could finish them off — forever. They chose a tactical retreat. The bill was formally determined, by leadership and the committee chairman, to be killed a few days before the scheduled hearing.”
The Irresistible Force of the popular will met, and merged with, the Immovable Object of a handful of courageous lawmakers. So ended SOPA.
At least, so ended SOPA 1.0. A sequel, it appears, has been greenlighted by the Motion Picture Association or its constituents. Now creep back those who scheme to take the wild, fertile, and free Internet, throw barbed wire around it, and turn it into a hunting preserve for Hollywood and record companies.
About six months before he died Aaron Swartz recited a truly chilling anecdote. It reveals something about what’s really going on: a desire by those with power to crush liberty.
From a rush transcript published by DemocracyNow.org of Swartz’s keynote address at Freedom to Connect:
“I was at an event, and I was talking, and I got introduced to a U.S. senator, one of the strongest proponents of the original… bill, in fact. And I asked him why, despite being such a progressive, despite giving a speech in favor of civil liberties, why he was supporting a bill that would censor the Internet. And, you know, that typical politician smile he had suddenly faded from his face, and his eyes started burning this fiery red. And he started shouting at me, said, ‘Those people on the Internet, they think they can get away with anything! They think they can just put anything up there, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them! They put up everything! They put up our nuclear missiles, and they just laugh at us! Well, we’re going to show them! There’s got to be laws on the Internet! It’s got to be under control!’
“Now, as far as I know, nobody has ever put up the U.S.’s nuclear missiles on the Internet. I mean, it’s not something I’ve heard about. But that’s sort of the point. He wasn’t having a rational concern, right? It was this irrational fear that things were out of control. Here was this man, a United States Senator, and those people on the Internet, they were just mocking him. They had to be brought under control. Things had to be under control. And I think that was the attitude of Congress. And just as seeing that fire in that Senator’s eyes scared me, I think those hearings scared a lot of people. They saw this wasn’t the attitude of a thoughtful government trying to resolve trade-offs in order to best represent its citizens. This was more like the attitude of a tyrant. And so the citizens fought back.”
Aaron Swartz is dead now, at age 26. He took his own life after having been tyrannized by the United States Department of Justice, hounded by a prosecutor as merciless as Inspector Javert of Les Miserables infamy. Chairman Issa has written to Attorney General Holder: “The suggestions that prosecutors did in fact seek to make an example out of Aaron Swartz because Demand Progress exercised its First Amendment rights in publicly supporting him raises new questions about the Department’s handling of the case.”
One last time — and perhaps with even more potentially powerful ramifications — Darrell Issa’s integrity — the Immovable Object — joins with the Irresistible Force of the spirit of the people’s paladin, Aaron Swartz. Perhaps Swartz’s death will unleash a more explosive force for freedom than Big Government’s agents foresaw. “You can’t win, Vader. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Meanwhile, evidence shows Big Hollywood and the Big Record Industry, again conniving with Big Government, to appropriate the Internet: SOPA 2.0. If they succeed… we — hello Sir Tim — might as well change the Web’s name to C2P2: “Concentration Camp Penny Pritzker.” Let Anonymous take note.
Stopping SOPA, thereby keeping our Constitutional rights protected on the Internet, was a near thing. If Issa had not, by pure chance (or Providence), been a member of the relevant committee; if a scheduling conflict had kept him from the hearing; if he had just missed the cue; if he did not chair another committee giving him clout… the Internet might now, effectively, belong to Sony, Time-Warner, Disney et. al… protected, for them, by a minefield of embedded felony statutes under the pretext of “property rights.”
Let us hope that the more affluent beneficiaries of freedom of speech, of the press and of assembly — the founders of Google, Paypal, Twitter and Facebook, for example — take note — and honor the memory of Aaron Swartz. These entrepreneurs flourish, as we all flourish, from an equitable balance of property rights and civil liberty.
Let us pray Silicon Valley doesn’t get caught napping again. Next time could be the last time. Much of free speech, in practice, could be relegated from the Web to… taggers.
The Bill of Rights — including freedom of speech, the press, assembly — on the Web as elsewhere — is far too precious to take for granted.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
No to SOPA 2.0.
– Ralph Benko
Article originally appeared here.