LISTEN: The post-American Internet, with Schneier, ICANN boss, global academics


While I am not someone who thinks the US is anywhere near perfect, I currently do not mind the US’s dominant control over the internet because the US has the First Amendment. And while its been (and is being) chipped at and eroded constantly, its still far more broad and protecting than any other country’s speech laws.

Now you might say “Other countries have freedom of speech as well!” And they do, but not to the extent the US does (and in actuality there is no truely free speech anywhere).

Europe is full of laws against speech when it refers to hate speech or Nazi’s and many indirect limitations of speech when it comes to gag laws or the burden of proof required to defend against libel. This may not be true forever, but the US is currently the best option, this could change rapidly though (see: cyberbullying, restrictions on social network use while at school, and whatever ludicrous legislation comes out of the Gamergate fiasco).

For example the S. 987: Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 repeatedly says that it is OK to restrict web content which is “unlawful.” This sounds fine, until you realize that unlawful is not the same as illegal. “Unlawful” refers to things which, while not illegal, are not specifically legal. “Illegal” refers to things which are explicitly against a law.

Jaywalking (in many places) is an example of this. It’s not specifically illegal to cross the street on foot wherever you want. However the only place its specifically allowed is at crosswalks. So jaywalking (in many places) is unlawful, but not illegal. You can still be prosecuted though because the courts recognize unlawful activity as against “the spirit of the law.”

This opens up a crack of subjective interpretation. A website which published bomb-making instructions is not illegal (in the US), but may be unlawful. A website which publishes how to circumvent national firewalls may be unlawful. The interpretation of content as potentially unlawful adds on another layer of weakness on free speech.

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Much as I don’t trust the US government regarding the internet, I think I trust every other government even less.

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Some of us foreigners are not entirely sure we agree.

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Some of us don’t particularly trust governments at all.

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