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The threats to freedom on the Internet

domingo 4 de março de 2012, por Rita Casaro, Rita Casaro

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A protest against two projects that proceed through the U.S. Congress about the Internet took place on the 18th last January.

The powerful Google and the Anonymous hackers watched the acts of the Sopa (Stop Online Piracy Act) and the Pipa (Protect IP Act), that, if approved, will make the network a space with much less freedom for Internet users.

Behind the moralistic speeches, there are interests of the higly oligopolistic sector, the sector of the telecommunication operators, which earns $180 billion. About this topic and and how the discussion takes place in Brazil spoke in the interview the engineer and sociologist Sérgio Amadeu Engineer Silveira, who is the representative of the civil society in the Internet Managing Committee.

Why is freedom on the Internet threatened?

The Internet is running two major risks of restriction, which aim to change it for worse. The first relates to the principle of the net neutrality; the second relates to the creation of the digital walls for navigation. They are promoted by the telecommunication operators and the copyright industries, such as cinematography, phonography; those who live from the levying of licenses of ownership.

What is the risk related to net neutrality?

The Internet has always worked under the idea that its various layers, network, transport of data, applications and physics, must be neutral in relation to each other so as not to impede the advance of technology. For example, I create a new protocol and, provided that it communicates with the existing ones, it can be applied for the good. What is transferred over the Internet are not things, but bits, the smallest units of information, which are transformed into electrical or light signals. Therefore, the physical network has to be neutral in regard to data transfer. This is the principle of neutrality. However, when the Internet was created, the physical infrastructure of the telephone companies was used. Nowadays, these operators have realized how big their power is and the business models which they possess do not favor the freedom of the user. When someone begins to transfer very large files, it congests the network that is not dimensioned for this. This traffic should be increased, but the operators prefer to apply the filter.

Does the operator therefore determine what is being transferred?

When somebody is transferring a package of data, which has a header that when read by the infrastructure company, it says whether it is a video, for example. The company doesn’t know the contents, but she knowns that this is a video and she can filter it, delay the transfer. And this filter is not to improve the traffic and the use. When someone is using voice on IP, they block. So many times you can not use skype. Operators want you to use their software to charge you in that way. More and more, individuals and companies depend on this infrastructure. They use the network a lot and they will use it more in the future. Then the owners of the infrastructure have noticed the power they have. They want to establish that they have a private activity in cyberspace and they can charge for the application or prevent that certain things happen. It’s funny, because the network is private, but the communication is public. And there are few companies that control this infrastructure. It’s the oligopoly never reached in the field of broadcasting. There are big corporations, with an enormous power over communication.

This will affect not only the freedom of expression, but it also will effect the creation technology. In the United States, the operators have obtained a court judgment in their favor and have created a very large reverse movement, so-called ’Save the internet".

And: what is the situation with regard to the restriction of the access to the contents?

Another problem is the blockade of freedom on the Internet by the interest of the copyright industry. They have realized that many people exchange digital files, I do not think that this is a crime and it will be difficult to convince them not to do so. Then the industry plans to use laws or technologies that prevent the user to share the content. Sopa is the law that would block the IP number and domain of a site that was accused of having a picture or text pirated. With that, the USA begins to be like China, that has got a list ofblocked sites. The American citizen could not access the blocked site. Worse, this site will be swept if possible from the Internet. The main search engines, like Google and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are on American soil, will not have any link to this site. The other attempt is to act on the intermediary, criminalizing providers of the access and of the content. Pipa, which was sent before the Sopa, basically creates the list of IPs blocked.

The exchange of the content in the Internet has become a trivial practice. Are there any chances for improving?

It is not going to be possible to catch people, it is a common cultural action. It is equivalent to a photocopy in the faculty. But the main economic clashes in the 21st century will revolve around financial capital and intellectual property, which will generate many conflicts. There are forces which want to benefit from this expansion of networks to create new enterprises and reproduce the capital and others who are fighting against the technological progress, like a gas lamp company against the electricity. The control of the Internet gathers the whole outcast of the dirty business. This is a danger. We are at this point in which the networks are improving and this is not carried out by a company; it is a gigantic collective creation. These sectors cannot be put against the technological advance and its results nor the social appropriation of them.

How are these issues being treated in Brazil?

In Brazil, the project of the civil framework of the Internet which was sent to the National Congress in September by Dilma is even still not reported for the opinion and not discussed in the committees.

It’s one of the basic principles and the neutrality of the network. It provides the guarantees for people to use the network with freedom and privacy. It is important since a big part of the invasion is carried out by the corporations. The bank puts a script in the navigator (browser) which is telling what you are doing.This is not a crime? On the other hand, the Law Project Azeredo is ready to be voted - that deals with the copyright and the criminalization of an unauthorized access. But what is unauthorized access? It is necessary to criminalize the invasion of the computer. But why not say that? Because they want to become rich. The civil framework is going down a different line. It also determines that the provider is not responsible for the content. It is the paradigm of a taxi driver, who can not be accused because he transports a criminal. (Rita Casaro)

Photo: Sergio Amadeu participates in debate in the Ciranda FST on threats of the Internet. Photo of Stella Oliveira