Tim Wu, “Network Neutrality FAQ,” Timwu.org, http://timwu.org/network_neutrality.html, accessed March 4, 2011.
Peter Svensson, “Comcast Blocks Some Internet Traffic,” MSNBC, October 19, 2007, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21376597/ns/technology_and_science-internet/.
“Comcast Complaint,” Public Knowledge, http://www.publicknowledge.org/issues/comcastcomplaint, accessed March 4, 2011.
FCC, “Commission Orders Comcast to End Discriminatory Network Management Practices,” news release, August 1, 2008, http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-284286A1.pdf.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net and overturned the FCC’s ruling against the company. The decision, which came shortly after the release of the National Broadband Plan, also found that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate ISPs under the legal framework the agency had cited, challenging its ability to protect consumers on the internet.In December 2010, the FCC issued a compromise ruling on net neutrality that instructs fixed-line service providers not to block access to or unreasonably discriminate against lawful websites, applications, or devices. The rules for wireless broadband providers are much more limited, however, restricting only some types of blocking and saying nothing about discrimination. ISPs are allowed to offer tiered services at different prices under the new regulations.19 FCC chairman Julius Genachowski claimed that the rules would protect “internet freedom and openness and promote robust innovation and investment.”20 Some civil society organizations expressed disappointment that the commission did not take a stronger stance on net neutrality that would have applied the Communications Act’s “common carrier” provisions, though they agreed that the FCC operated in a free, fair, and independent manner.LIMITS ON CONTENT Access to information on the internet is generally free from government interference. There is no government-run filtering mechanism affecting content passing over the internet or the mobile-phone network. Users with opposing viewpoints engage in a vibrant online political discourse, and face almost no legal or technical restrictions on publication or access.
Although the government does not restrict any political and social content, legal rules that apply to other spheres of life have increasingly been extended to the internet. For example, concerns over copyright violations, child pornography, protection of minors from harmful content, gambling, and financial crime have presented a strong impetus for aggressive legislative and executive action.
Advertisement, production, distribution, and possession of child pornography—on the internet and in all other media—is prohibited under federal law and can carry up to years in prison. According to the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988, Comcast Corporation v. Federal Communications Commission, No. 08-1291, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, April 6, 2010, http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/EA10373FA9C20DEA85257807005BD63F/$file/08-12911238302.pdf.
FCC, “Report and Order: In the Matter of Preserving the Open Internet, Broadband Industry Practices,” FCC 10-201, December 21, 2010, http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2010/db1223/FCC-10-201A1.pdf.
Sara Jerome, “Genachowski on Net-neutrality: “I Reject Both Extremes,” Hillicon Valley (blog), The Hill, December 20, 2010, http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/134597-genachowski-on-net-neutrality-i-reject-both-extremes.
“Network Neutrality,” Public Knowledge, http://www.publicknowledge.org/issues/network-neutrality, accessed March 4, 2011.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net all producers of sexually explicit material must keep records proving that their models and actors are over 18 years old. In addition to prosecuting individual offenders, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and other law enforcement agencies can seize the domain name of an offending website after obtaining a court order.
Congress has passed several laws designed to restrict adult pornography and shield children from harmful content, such as the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (COPA), but they were later overturned by courts due to their ambiguity and potential infringements on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedoms of speech and the press. One law that is currently in force is the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 (CIPA), which requires public libraries that receive certain federal government subsidies to install filtering software that prevents users from accessing “visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors.” Libraries that do not receive the specified subsidies from the federal government are not obliged to comply with CIPA, and about one-third of public libraries in 2007 decided to forgo such financial support to avoid the filtering requirement.22 Moreover, under the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law, adult users can request that the filtering be removed without having to provide a justification.Apart from clearly illegal content such as child pornography, the government in recent years has started more aggressively pursuing alleged infringements of intellectualproperty rights on the internet. Over the past year alone, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security has engaged in several rounds of domain-name seizures, with targets including blogs and file-sharing sites that allegedly linked to illegal copies of music and films, and sites that sell counterfeit goods.24 In September 2010, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, proposed a Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which would have authorized the attorney general to suspend any domain name that provided access to websites dedicated to copyright-infringing activities. However, the bill was criticized by some internet-freedom advocates for its potential effects on political and other speech, and it was defeated before reaching the Senate floor.
The recent activities of the antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks have touched off a serious debate about the use of the internet to publicize sensitive or classified government documents. Working with a number of traditional news outlets, WikiLeaks has published several tranches of U.S. government material that was allegedly stolen and leaked by a U.S.
Army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning. This information has included a video Charles C. McClure and Paul T. Jaeger, Public Libraries and Internet Service Roles: Measuring and Maximizing Internet Services (Chicago: American Library Association, 2009), 42.
Bob Bocher, “Children’s Internet Protection Act, CIPA: A Brief FAQ on Public Library Compliance,” Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, February 2004, updated March 11, 2010, http://dpi.state.wi.us/pld/cipafaqlite.html.
Corynne McSherry, “U.S. Government Seizes 82 Websites: A Glimpse at the Draconian Future of Copyright Enforcement” Electronic Frontier Foundation, November 29, 2010, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/11/us-government-seizes-82websites-draconian-future.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net recording from a 2007 incident in which journalists and Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S.
forces (April 2010), more than 76,900 documents on the war in Afghanistan (July 2010), almost 400,000 documents about the war in Iraq (October 2010), and reams of diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department (November 2010).
Since the release of the diplomatic cables, the WikiLeaks website has faced some unofficial, nongovernmental actions that restricted its ability to operate and obtain financial support. In late November 2010, for example, the site was removed from the data-storage service of the online commerce company Amazon, which claimed that WikiLeaks had violated its terms of service.25 A day later, WikiLeaks’ domain-name service provider, EveryDNS, ended its relationship after suffering distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks by the organization’s opponents.26 The following week, the online payment service PayPal froze the account WikiLeaks had used to receive donations from the public, claiming that the group was in violation of its terms of service.27 While each company that severed ties with WikiLeaks claimed to be acting independently and without government influence, their decisions came amid fierce public criticism of WikiLeaks by executive branch officials and prominent members of Congress.28 Various U.S. government agencies and officials have gone so far as to instruct federal employees without proper clearance to refrain from reading the leaked cables, since they are still regarded as classified documents. The Air Force went a step further and blocked on its internal network any sites that published the cables, including those of the New York Times and the Washington Post.Although Manning, the soldier accused of passing the classified information to WikiLeaks, is facing a military prosecution that could end with a sentence of life in prison, the government to date has not filed charges over the actual publication of the leaked material, nor has it sought to block access to the information or ban publication of future leaks.
A communications start-up community is thriving in the United States, despite the recent economic recession, and such innovators and entrepreneurs regularly offer new technological tools at no cost to the public. Popular web applications like the video-sharing site YouTube, the social-networking site Facebook, the Twitter microblogging service, and international blog-hosting services are all freely available. The internet plays a significant role in civic activism in the United States, and the growth of the blogosphere and citizen Geoffrey A. Fowler, “Amazon Says WikiLeaks Violated Terms of Service,” Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703377504575651321402763304.html.
Kevin Poulsen, “WikiLeaks Attacks Reveal Surprising, Avoidable Vulnerabilities,” Wired, December 3, 2010, http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/12/wikileaks-domain/.
Kevin Poulsen, “PayPal Freezes WikiLeaks Account,” Wired, December 4, 2010, http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/12/paypal-wikileaks/.
Ewen MacAskill, “WikiLeaks Website Pulled by Amazon After US Political Pressure,” Guardian, December 2, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/01/wikileaks-website-cables-servers-amazon.
Eric Schmitt, “Air Force Blocks Sites that Posted Secret Cables,” New York Times, December 14, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/15/us/15wiki.html.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net journalism has changed the ways in which many people receive news. Blogs and electronic media outlets reporting from various points on the political spectrum now have greater readership than most printed periodicals. Nearly all nongovernmental organizations and causes have a presence on the internet and use it for advocacy and social mobilization. Email campaigns, online petitions, and YouTube videos have been instrumental in organizing protests, lobbying government bodies, and putting a spotlight on issues ranging from environmental degradation to hate crimes.The internet has also profoundly influenced political campaigning and fundraising.
Until recently, most election campaigns relied on large donations from a limited pool of wealthy contributors. However, the success of current U.S. president Barack Obama’s campaign, which was propelled by millions of small, online contributions, demonstrated the efficacy of the internet in mobilizing mass political support. Obama’s election team was able to raise over half a billion dollars in internet-based donations, with an average donation of about $80.31 In addition, the campaign’s use of e-mail, social-networking tools, and online videos was watched and eventually emulated by political operatives in the United States and around the world.
VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS The U.S. Constitution includes strong protections for free speech and freedom of the press.
In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court applied established standards on those rights to the internet, and the lower courts have consistently enforced them. Two federal laws also provide significant protections for online speech: Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 (as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996) provides immunity for ISPs and online platforms such as YouTube and Facebook that carry content created by third parties, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requires copyright owners to notify intermediaries to have allegedly infringing material removed. These statutes effectively enable companies to develop internet applications and websites without fear that they will be held liable for content posted by users.
The U.S. government generally does not prosecute individuals for posting information on the internet. As of the end of December 2010, it had taken no decisive action against either WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange, an Australian citizen.
However, Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that his office is looking into whether See for example the Care2 “Keep Sewage Out of Our Rivers!” petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/200/475/680/, and Steve Williams, “President Obama Signs Hate Crimes Bill— Thank You to the 25,000 Care2 Members That Helped It Reach His Desk!” Care2, October 28, 2009, http://www.care2.com/causes/civil-rights/blog/25-000-care2-members-help-secure-presidents-signature-on-hate-crimesbill/.
Jose Antonio Vargas, “Obama Raised Half a Billion Online,” 44 (blog), Washington Post, November 20, 2008, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2008/11/obama-raised-half-a-billion-on.html.