US Government: First Amendment rights don’t apply to the internet

Is the United States federal government going too far in regards to some of the legal actions that have recently been taken against internet activity, and stifling its citizens First Amendment Rights?

A growing segment of the population seems to believe so, and is beginning to speak out against the actions in order to bring awareness of the issues and possible long-term implications.

US Government: First Amendment rights don't apply to the internet

One of the situations gaining a great deal of attention is the most recent leaked draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a proposed legal framework that would establish international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement.

In an article this week, Cory Doctorow points out some of the more oppressive aspects of ACTA:

“Particularly disturbing is the growing support for “three-strikes” copyright rules that would disconnect whole families from the Internet if one member of the household was accused (without proof) of copyright infringement. The other big US agenda item is cramming pro-Digital Rights Management (DRM) rules down the world’s throats that go way beyond the current obligations under the UN’s WIPO Copyright Treaty. In the US version, breaking DRM is always illegal, even if you’re not committing any copyright violation — so breaking the DRM on your iPad to install software you bought from someone who hasn’t gone through the Apple approval process is illegal, even though the transaction involves no illicit copying.”

Basically, the government would be able to shut off an entire household’s access to the internet, without due process, if someone had been accused of illegally downloading copyrighted material, and citizens will not have the legal right to break DRM on hardware they own.

But wait, there’s more!

A new bill passing through the US Senate, known as the “media shield bill”, has been created to provide protection to journalists who refuse to reveal confidential sources. While this is a step to enforce First Amendment rights for reporters, some senators have drafted an amendment that excludes websites like Wikileaks. The issue here is that the internet has caused a large gray area in the definition of “journalism”.

While there is no doubt some illegal activity in these scenarios that needs to be addressed, the point that Mitch Wagner makes in a recent column is that there are already laws against these activities. Why must the government add an oppressive layer on top of laws that already exist?

The scenarios that the world is currently encountering as a result of the evolution of the internet as a communication and archival tool are unprecedented, I will admit. Unfortunately, rather than trying to think up suitable solutions to these issues, it seems that politicians are making irrational decisions that are going to erode the freedoms the nation has worked for centuries to uphold. Not that I have a better solution to suggest at this point, but I would almost argue that inaction would be more productive for society until someone figures out how to address these situations in a way that doesn’t threaten the freedoms of the innocent.