To Whom I.T. May Concern: Freedom of Information vs. Security, and a Bunch of Other Things

Since there has been enough time to accept the Internet as a legitimate component of the media, one can categorize some of the blessings of the information era such as satellite television, websites of daily newspapers and many others as the components of “the traditional media”. The new media, when compared to the traditional media has its advantages about democratization of content, access on demand, interactive structure, and easiness of achieving creativity. However, as new media is different in structure, it would be impractical to try to understand and interpret it in the same way as one does with traditional media.

The concept of new media is relative to the time it is being exposed to (Mayer, 124). For this article, the introduction of the “videotext[i]” by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) will be taken as the starting point of the new media, as it is the first significant example of an interactive medium.

The problem consists of three sub-topics: politics, economics, and security. Most of us have seen the effects of social media on politics, usually by the means of public protests and the people expressing their opinions about a law, bill, etc. Interactive media theoretically increases freedom, as people start to have more and more platforms to express themselves every day. This creates a seemingly illogical problem that new media opportunities are not seen as parts of the real world. So, one of the most problematic views about new media is that people normally had no problems about being not able to contribute to newspapers or television shows at will, so they can now at least contribute to the media, and limiting new media opportunities should not be a problem. In other words, in terms of freedom, the limitations are only loss on profit, not loss on an absolute scale. One of the interesting examples of this issue is that the Turkish judiciary system have recently encountered many law suits and prosecutions concerning the political activities by some army officers and journalists, a considerable amount of which was done through the new media. The Turkish example does not end with army officers and journalists. There are many legal cases against people writing some comments about the Prime Minister on the Internet, and many of those cases have been issued by the Prime Minister himself. With these examples, it would be reasonable to say that the new media is in fact very real. In Eastern Asia, the governments’ political problems with new media are becoming much clearer. In China, any site, any article or any comment by a user is automatically detected by the firewall system, which the Westerners like to call “the Great Firewall of China”, if they contain words or phrases like “human rights”, “freedom”, etc. They occasionally get blocked. Political oppression via the monitoring of the Internet is much more severe in Iran. Social media platforms were blocked by the Iranian government in the year 2009 as they were considered “tools of the opposition”. About the word detection problem, the issue is similar with China, but with a different word set including “woman”, “torture”, “rape”, etc. (Tunç and Atikkan).

Economic side of the problem is mostly about intellectual property rights and their rights holders. It is true that each year, many artists, writers, even companies -big and small- are economically harmed by the increasing number of pirated copies of their products or their products deemed to be “stolen”. Especially with the Internet speeds in developing and developed countries, one can acquire many songs worth thousands of Euros overnight for free. The “suggested” bills SOPA and PIPA were mostly about this subject, and mostly concerning foreign websites.[ii] The United States government and senate were not able to take actions in accordance with the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that are protected by the DMCA[iii] safe harbor, especially when the infringing site is a foreign one. It is evident that many people have experienced, and will experience problems about the economic aspects of the “free” Internet and regarding the intellectual property rights, and they should be protected by laws. However, the implications of the laws may bring limitations for the other websites that do not purposefully harm others, websites with partly uncontrollable user input. In addition to this, these bills would bring “complaint” based action. So it will bring lots of cases to judgment, wear out the legal system, bring out a considerable cost, and will cause people to take action against financial rivals just because their websites are somewhat controversial, even if they do not directly breach any laws. The ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is supposed to create a whole new body of administration other than the United Nations and its organizations concerned with this subject. After getting signed by a few countries in America and Asia last year, the agreement was signed by the European Union and most of its member states in January. The people who oppose the ACTA mostly complain about its structure which they think is against freedom of expression and countless digital rights, as well as bringing privacy and online security to a controversy. Who should be protected, should be protected. This is why much of the opposition does not oppose these bills and agreements on a total scale, but it is a few articles and items that are controversial in terms of human rights and freedoms, and privacy that they oppose. The fact that acceptance of such bills will require ISPs to monitor user behavior is the major concern here.

Security is the final problem about the Internet. Apart from the economic security issues stated above, governments also take physical and moral security into account. Physical (or potentially physical) security measures consist of precautions and sanctions against cyber bullying, fraud, illegal drugs, unregistered trade of legal drugs, and so on. The concept of moral security is used as a defense mechanism mostly by more conservative governments. As a significant example, Turkey has issued a few choices of Internet filters to “protect the public” from harmful content, despite the fact that millions of websites have already been blocked, and there already are thousands of free of charge or cheap software available for the users who want to protect their children or themselves from “harmful” (pornographic, immoral, etc.) content. The problem arises with the question: “Is it the government’s duty to protect the public in a civilian place where adults are supposedly free?” The whole purpose of the Internet is to contribute to something, or get the benefit of something freely, of course, without harming anyone and it is obviously not the governments’ duty to tell the adult population to stop watching/reading pornographic content as they harm themselves “morally.”

 

So, the problem with the views of the governments towards new media is that they view it as a new and growing part of already existing traditional media. To narrow down the subject, one should point out the differences. All parts of the Internet are “not” available to everyone, whereas terrestrial broadcasting is. Terrestrial broadcasting is regulated by laws in many countries as it is available to every person who has a television. Nowadays, almost everyone in developed and developing countries has a television, which means practically everyone has access to anything on terrestrial television networks (signal problems and the differences among local networks are neglected for now). However, to access a piece of content on the Internet, one actually has to access a specific address, while to access a television channel, one might accidentally run into it while he is just changing the channels. Limited number of channels will increase the viewer’s chance of accidentally viewing something. On the Internet, it is impossible to accidentally reach a piece of pornographic content directly after browsing (for example) the Ministry of Education’s website if the website is not hacked. The “accidentally-running-into” problem would only occur with someone who does not use the computer consciously (little children, people with no experience about computers, etc.), and there is already software to protect those people from such possibilities. The second major difference is that the Internet is interactive, while traditional media is not. So, the platforms with user input would suffer the most from over-aggravated regulations. Websites like YouTube will always have copyrighted content, or websites like Facebook will always have nudity even though such content is not acceptable according to their terms and conditions. Even monitoring is not a solution for such content in over-populated websites. Even the websites visited and/or used by a few hundreds of people will continue to have the “wrong” content input by a user, just because it was not interesting enough to be noticed, or it was not complained about before. Besides, monitoring every unit of input by every user is inconvenient, brings considerable costs, and constitutes philosophical irrelevance. If we go back to the issue of the bills offered to the administrational bodies of the United States of America, and the agreements approved by the international authorities, the problems get global. The reason for the problems getting global is that most of the websites today are registered in the United States, and most of the rest is registered in Europe (see: ACTA), and even the sites not registered in these regions are used by the public in these regions to some extent. Any issue concerning any website could turn into a problem for the United States, or even the United Nations, which constitutes potential threat to the structure of the Internet in the whole world.

Governments might need to regulate or monitor online content to protect the public if there is such a realistic need, however, the monitoring and the regulations over the Internet cannot be achieved by interpreting the cases according to the rules, regulations or even morals created for, or emerged in time for the traditional media. The regulations or the necessary monitoring of any content creates problems when it breaches the boundaries of human rights and freedoms, especially when it contradicts with the basic principles of privacy and freedom of expression. Other problems that arise with the over-aggravated and illogical monitoring (and/or regulation) of content are the extended administrative costs and harm to the domestic economy by limitation of financial activities on the side of the public.

 

References

Atikkan, Z., Tunç, A. (March 2011). Blogdan Al Haberi. İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları.

Ayres, J. M. (1999). From Streets to the Internet: The Cyber-Diffusion of Contention. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 566, 132-143.

Belk, R. (2007). Why Not Share Rather than Own? Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 611, 126-140.

Castunguay, J. (2004). Conglomeration, New Media, and the Cultural Production of the “War on Terror”.Cinema Journal, 43(4), 102-108.

Davis, D., Levine, E. (1982). The Challenge of New Media: Two Viewpoints. Art Journal, 42(1), 46-49.

Goodman, J. D. (2012, January 27). Twitter’s New Policy on Blocking Posts Is Attacked, and Defended.The New York Times Blogs. Retrieved January 28, 2012, fromhttp://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/twitters-new-policy-on-blocking-posts-is-attacked-and-defended/?scp=34&sq=arab%20spring&st=cse

Hunt, A. (1997). ‘Moral Panic’ and Moral Language in the Media. The British Journal of Sociology, 48(4), 629-648.

Mayer, W. G. (1994). Poll Trends: The Rise of the New Media. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 58(1), 124-146.

Murray, A., Scott. C. (2002). Controlling the New Media: Hybrid Responses to New Forms of Power. The Modern Law Review, 65(4), 491-516.

Sengupta, S. (2012, January 27). Censoring of Tweet Sets off #Outrage. The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/28/technology/when-twitter-blocks-tweets-its-outrage.html?_r=2&scp=27&sq=arab%20spring&st=cse

Shedden, D. (2004, December 16). New Media Timeline. Poynter. Retrieved December 3, 2011, fromhttp://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/28684/new-media-timeline-1969/

Weiser, P. J. (2003). The Internet, Innovation, and Intellectual Property Policy. Columbia Law Review, 103(3), 534-613.



[i]Shedden, 2004.

[ii]These bills, that are considered to potentially enable right-holders to take down an entire website for just one page on the website, or take solid actions against websites also with accusation, not only conviction, were put on hold by the responsible authorities at the time this proposal was prepared. Course of action for the research will take the ongoing evolution of the issues into account, and will not consider the current point and the current results outside this ongoing evolution.

[iii]Digital Millennium Copyright Act

 

This article was published online on the aKDemia website with this link. (12 July 2012)

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