By now you’ve probably heard about Stop 114A, a campaign to bring awareness to a new amendment to Malaysia’s Evidence Act 1950 which, its supporters allege, could lead to Internet freedoms being curtailed in this fair state. Who knows, by the time you read this it could be dead in the water but at time of writing a bunch of leading Malaysian websites went dark for a special Internet Blackout Day.
There’s even a Facebook page – 1Million Malaysians against Evidence (Amendment) (No2) Act 2012 – which is bound to be full of exactly the kind of comments that the Act seeks to shut down. Don’t worry, the rest of this article isn’t going to be an exhaustive treatise on the pros and cons of online sedition or a puff piece for either side of the tiresome political divide. But whether you’re an activist turk or an apolitical berk, it’s worth remembering that there’s a whole movement out there dedicated to curtailing what you can do and say online.
The Internet, as far as most of its users is concerned, is only about a decade old (doesn’t matter that it was conjured up in the 1950s as a secure military communications network). Sites we use everyday like Facebook are far younger than that, while Hotmail, the redoubtable netizen that introduced many of us to free email and enduringly embarrassing firstname.lastname@example.org is being put out to pasture, to be replaced by a new suite of services under the Outlook umbrella.
Times move fast online. Sites like Facebook and Groupon have gone from being the darling of the analysts to the shame of the bubbling classes. Who remembers dot com bombs like Friendster, Bebo or the increasingly lonely looking MySpace? Walled gardens are increasingly the buzzword of the day. Facebook’s is by far the largest (if you discount China’s massive firewalled Intranet) with close to a billion members willingly opting out of the Net to sit in secluded safety on virtual lawns surrounded by the neat hedges and landscaped pathways of their Facebook Friends.
It’s not new. Many US citizens and residents started off their online lives with America Online, an Internet that sat on top of the Internet in the 1990s, curating its own content. But the world of online commerce was never going to agree to those limits and gamers and porn surfers chafed to go beyond its none too opaque borders. And roam they did. Into nooks. Behind crannies. Leaving flaming posts and trolling their way happily across message boards, blogs and the nascent social media networks, happily ripping electronic lollipops from the mouths of babes (or “hos” and “bit#$@” as they prefer to term them) and leaving misery and destruction behind them.
And if there’s anything your archetypal international politician really hates it’s the sadness and discomfort of the average voter. You can practically hear them squealing with well-oiled disgust and approbation as the cogs of ill repute mesh their visages into a death mask stare. Doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of big business interests that have their sticky beaks stuck in the trough of online legislation, looking for ways to tighten the screws around their own purse strings.
Whether it’s Stop 114A, SOPA, PIPA or any number of cookie cutter slices of legislation, we’re seeing a concerted effort by governments the world over – and the businesses behind them – to curtail our online behaviour. It could be the walled gardens created by the likes of Apple and Facebook, the intrusion of criminal or cyber-sleuthing hackers, or governments wishing to force Internet users to register in the name of anti-paedophile, terrorism or piracy protections, they all have one ultimate aim: control.
For some it’s because they understand the Internet poorly and think of it as a broadcast medium like TV or radio where state regulation and interference is as old as the technology itself. And then there are those who understand it only too well. A recent Wired magazine profile (August 2012) of Eugene Kaspersky, co-founder of Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow based cyber security company whose anti-virus suite now rivals those of Norton and McAfee, quoted the enigmatic Russian with close Kremlin ties as saying that there is too much freedom online – even within the moats of Facebook – before exploring his suggestion of a digital passport that would allow a user’s movements to be tracked as they journey across the binary ocean.
Of course, it’ll never happen. Not as long as we keep starting Facebook pages to demonstrate our ire. And even if it does come to pass, this kind of oversight shouldn’t worry you. You have nothing to fear. After all; you never do anything wrong.
This post first appeared in the September issue of NewMan magazine