CISPA: The Struggle Between Security and Control

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To no surprise authorities have passed yet another “cyber defense” law. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was passed by U.S. Congress, despite a public and corporate outcry. According to The Guardian the use of CISPA would allegedly “encourage companies and the federal government to share information with each other collected on the Internet, preventing potential electronic attacks from cyber criminals (hackers), foreign governments and terrorists”. However, this decision is not mutually accepted. High profile Internet companies including Reddit, Craigslist, Mozilla, and even WordPress perceive CISPA as controversial, with fears that it will provide the government with the ability to spy on Internet users.

One might may forgot that in 2012 a similar law known as Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) was proposed by congress to curb access to foreign websites that are believed to be involved in the distribution and manufacturing of copyrighted material as a direct result of increasing piracy on the web. However, SOPA was eventually halted after an “unprecedented amount of online protests”.

Forward to today, the public domain has not been so lucky with CISPA. There has been an enormous amount of Internet activism and support with an online petition that contains more than 300,000 signatures from concerned users.

This online petition is a sign of hope and progress towards raising awareness that CISPA will not be passively accepted by organizations and users. There are dedicated organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has raised some of its concerns surrounding the new law. This includes issues such as “the purpose and use of sensitive personal information and providing overly broad legal immunity to companies who share users’ private information with the government.”

The EFF is working with the Internet Defense League, a coalition dedicated to fighting for internet freedom in order to directly combat CISPA. This is done through activist initiatives such as creating interactive banner advertisement placed on   websites that support EFF and The Internet Defense League. The banner ad encourages voters to send the following message to their members of Congress: “CISPA is back. This bill sacrifices privacy without improving security. We deserve both.”  There is even a dedicated Twitter account (@CISPApetition) in order to persuade the government to reconsider CISPA and the implications it will have on Internet users and organizations privacy.  Upon further exploration I discovered that The Internet Defense League is a campaign organized by a greater collective effort under the Fight for the Future, an organization that work towards “protecting and expanding the Internet’s transformative power through creating civic campaigns that are meant to engage millions of people.” Just by increasing awareness of the implications of CISPA they are raising awareness instead of simply being passive and letting the government slowly turn society into a “policed state”.

It is organizations like EFF, The Internet Defense League and Fight for the Future  that are helping defend the public domain of the Internet, even if the results are not instantaneous.  Internet users need to join in and continue the conversation about CISPA and the freedom of the Internet. Users need to refrain from believing that companies are already selling user information so why should we do anything about it.  Soon you won’t be able to do anything without persecution and scrutiny from a government that is meant to protect you.  I understand there is a growing need to protect citizens, but how far will it go. Where is the ability to exercise free speech?  The invasion of piracy into the lives of the average citizen needs to cease.  My hope is that by writing this blog post readers will support one of these organizations even if they think that one signature or email won’t make a difference. We need to exercise a greater collective effort and take back the control that CISPA has so easily been granted.

To end off, I would just like to thank everyone who has been reading my blog up until this point. This will be my last post until the conclusion of the semester (April 8, 2013) as part of this blog is being marked for an assignment in my seminar CS400ha– Citizen Media and the Public Sphere. I really appreciate any feedback or comments I have received from readers and hope that you have enjoyed reading some of the content I have posted. I look forward to writing my next post and hope readers will continue to post their comments and provide feedback.

Sincerely,

Ben

Hashtag Integration: A Future Facebook Trend

ImageSpeaking about a less serious topic than usual, Facebook, a leading social media platform, has had sources close to the company reveal that the appropriation of an iconic element from industry rival Twitter is imminent; the hashtag. The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook is working on “incorporating the hashtag according to sources familiar with the matter”. This indicates that Facebook users can look forward to the potential to index their conversations, events, or interests around a particular topic using the hashtag symbol (#). It seems that the goal of Facebook by using the hashtag is users will begin to participate in “trending” on Facebook instead of on Twitter.  However, this change is not without resistance. Arguably, Facebook is finding yet another method to generate advertising revenue without necessarily considering the potential cost to the overall experience of Facebook or the preferences its users support.

Now I do not have any problem with Facebook trying to encourage the extension of the conversation or seeking additional advertising revenue. The issue is that where and when will Facebook draw the line? It seems like every other week Facebook is creating new ways to use users’ personal information for its gain. Instead of improving the user experience on Facebook, the number one priority is establishing a greater audience in order to attract advertisers. As Matthew Ingram a blogger for Gigaom argues, “Facebook is not a platform for users to use — the user is the platform for Facebook to use.”

It appears that by introducing the hashtag to Facebook they are exercising their dominance as the preferred social network. Like the choice to eliminate Google Reader increasingly decisions have made by corporations who depend on its users to generate revenue. So, in an age where the consumer has a lot of influence through word of mouth and the ability to spread negative responses throughout the globe, why are these companies failing to consult the public domain that use these platforms on a daily basis. Scholar Henry Jenkins argues in his article Convergence? I Diverge that “no one medium is going to “win” the battle for our ears and eyeballs”.

Just searching this particular topic on YouTube, there are some concerned responses from users who oppose the change entirely. There is even a Facebook Group, which to my surprise is labeled as a cause, dedicated to providing a forum for users against the integration of the hashtag. With over 10,000 likes on the Facebook page, this community of users is using the platform to openly voice their disdain for the hashtag impeding into yet another social media network.  The front page of the group has messages that are example of the opposition Facebook users have such as “Leave Your Hashtags on Twitter” or “This is not Twitter. Hashtags don’t work here”. Overall, the response from users seems to be negative whether searching blogs, YouTube, or other news sources.

Facebook and Twitter need to consider the response from its users or potentially face a negative backlash that could see both companies loosing potential users. I think Facebook needs to take a step back and consider if this change is actually beneficial. By concluding I wanted to point out an underlying issue that concerns me involving the hashtag that is beyond the scope of this blog post. By utilizing the hashtag, is Facebook engaging in intellectual property theft, or is this an example of standardization that is foreseeable as a prominent feature in other social media networks in the future?

Fighting for the Right to Create

Image       Recently I was reading on Mashable about South by Southwest (SXSW), an annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival held in Austin, Texas. Upon exploring some of the events happening at SXSW, I came across the premiere of a documentary entitled Downloaded, directed by Alex Winter. This documentary is an extensive look at the music revolution once pioneered by the peer to-peer, music-sharing platform formerly known as Napster, created by Shaun Fanning, John Fanning and Shawn Parker. However, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), along with various recording companies, launched an extensive lawsuit that eventually was the initial demise of Napster. The case of Napster and its owners was a key event in the battle of music piracy and the use of intellectual property.  The war continues to wage on between creators who want to use culture as part of an original creation and organizations that utilize copyright and intellectual property laws to control cultural content from being shared or built upon without the appropriate compensation or authorization.

Regulations such as the Copyright Alert System are implemented, despite the growing amount of users who actively are involved in the sharing of content online. It is evident that  music labels, the recording industry, and even artists are not adjusting to the fair use argument by made creators. A reason for this is the popularity of digital media platforms that allow content to be acquired, remixed, and changed, usually without permission from the original owner. Organizations and particular skeptical artists are seemingly caught-up in an outdated approach to thinking about creativity.  As noted by scholar Lawrence Lessig in “Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity”, the law is changing, altering the way our culture gets made… this change should worry you”. Without some sort of resistance from society against the media moguls and regulators alike, the control that already resides in the hands of media ownerships will increase.

I predict that extreme cases of copyright infringement like Napster will occur in the future, with very little consideration for the development needed for future creators of media, communication, and culture. Lessig explains that society is gradually becoming a “permission culture”—a culture in which creators or consumers can create something only with the permission of the powerful creators of the past. As consumers find new methods to pirate copyrighted material, organizations will then develop a way to limit the fair use of intellectual property at the expense of users’ creativity. For the advancement of culture to progress, ideas need to be built upon instead of tightly controlled and monitored. Lessig argues, “there needs to be a balance between anarchy and control”. Users of the Internet need to seriously consider what lies ahead.  Arguably, by being passive or thinking “it’s the future generation’s problem”, it is not a legitimate justification to allow corporate control to escalate. What is problematic is that in order for artists and organizations to remain profitable, there is a need to disguise what is fair use and what is considered as theft.

Organizations and artists that oppose the concept of a “free culture” fail to understand that culture is made up of creators who build upon and modify existing ideas of culture without necessary ever asking for authorization. Explained by Lessig, the creation of culture is partially done without permission and without financially compensating the original creator – no society, free or controlled, has ever demanded that every use of culture is paid for or requires consent. Society needs to work towards embracing an open culture, where people have the ability to freely create culture instead of enduring exploitation by the interests of capitalists and overly concerned artists. Therefore, questions and concerns need to be raised concerning how to share culture through digital platforms without the threat of a lawsuit. Creators of culture need to work as a collective towards a model that may lead to a further concrete definition and concept of fair use. However, even if changed is enacted, requirements sought by media owners need to be considered or users may face a backlash characteristic of Napster. I fear that until steps are taken towards removing the barriers surrounding culture, the line between authorized and unauthorized will continue to be blurred, delaying the creative potential culture is capable of.

Rejection of Identity: The Problematic Notion of Posting Anonymously Online

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Digital media platforms (YouTube, 9GAG, Reddit, or StumbleUpon) provide users the opportunity to engage in forms of commenting or debate, surrounding multiple areas of culture. However, not all the comments depicted on these forums are critical, relevant, or even constructive. An underlying issue is that Internet users at times can be mean spirited. This is made worse through the ability to post or comment on almost anything anonymously. Often people who post something online do so without the slightest inclination that their comments have the potential to be destructive to someone’s identity and behavior online. It first must be acknowledged that, when referring to users who post anonymously, I am not arguing that the intent of all users post comments are deliberately damaging. However, there is a struggle presently between the freedom of speech within the Internet, and users anonymity. Posting anonymously fails to provide a similar respect or consideration for citizens who are taken advantage of for their choice to provide their online identity.

Posting anonymously usually comes without consequences, making it extremely difficult to prevent harmful comments from occurring on a frequent basis. However, a recent controversial law has been proposed that seeks to alter the privacy of users within the realm of the Internet, making it demanding for users to be able to post comments anonymously. The decision was made by Irish senator Eamonn Coghlan, who suggests that people should have to pay to post on social networks, which is believed would reduce the amount of anonymous posting online. He goes further and argues that users should have to “register passport numbers against their IP addresses”, exposing the true identity of the anonymous user.

The problem with resistance towards anonymity is that many of these users employ the use of proxy servers, which masks their true identity difficult for anyone to trace their online behavior. This is problematic since it becomes harder to distinguish between a user who wants to post something anonymous for legal or personal reasons and someone who is anonymously trolling. What is the distinction between the behavior of an anonymous user and someone who decides to use anonymity to troll for their own personal enjoyment?

The line is blurred between users who use anonymity within reason, and those who voice an opinion without any type of filter or consideration for censorship. Although the Internet provides a public sphere, a difficult part is ethical issue of monitoring of what is being said among the citizens that use it. I disagree that the notion of making people pay is plausible since there are multiple routes around IP restrictions. However, I believe that this initiative by Coghlan is the first of many attempts by authorities to deter this type of behaviour, especially when the consequences are harm to an individual, emotionally or physically, as a result. Individuals and organizations need to work together to develop a set of standards or conventions similar to the practices of journalism that makes anonymity justifiable. There will always be users who manage to get around exposing their IP address or their real identity. Nevertheless, Internet users must be conscious of what is currently happening to their public sphere before this space is overwhelmed by intolerance and a lack of trustworthiness between users.

The Copyright Alert System: A Rendition of George Orwell’s 1984?

ImageIt seems that although there have been multiple attacks by hacktivist organizations, these resistance initiatives have been largely ineffective to deter authorities from what they do best; control. Recently, The Center for Copyright Information in collaboration with corporate media providers (AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon) have introduced a set of restrictions, known as the Copyright Alert System (CAS). The purpose of this partnership is to deter escalating levels of piracy in order to control and monitor the amount of copyrighted material being shared between Internet users. Citizens who continue to obtain intellectual property through illegal means are at the mercy of the service provider. It is the imperative of citizens to contest this form of control by media owners for the future of their freedom within the realm of the Internet.

For violators of CAS, there are multiple consequences that have been implemented to deter users from performing illegal copyright in the future. This includes forcing users to watch an educational film on piracy, go through a “6 strikes” notification system or drastically reducing the speed of their Internet when illegal copyright material is located on their machine. This is exactly the sort of behavior that Internet activist Aaaron Swartz forewarned the public about before his recent suicide. Swartz advocated for the right to share and distribute intellectual property, such as academic journal articles, and copyrighted material between users. It was not until much later in the investigation of his suicide did I come across his manifesto, which outlined his stance on copyright. Swartz’s writes, “Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves”. Throughout history corporate greed, it seems will find and develop new ways to profit at the expense of the average citizen. CAS operates sort similar to George Orwell’s 1984 fictional authority “Big Brother”, who abuses power and operates as an extreme form of surveillance over the citizens of Oceania. However, similar to protagonist Winston Smith in 1984, Swartz’s argues that “there is something we can do, we can fight back”.

As the information age has demonstrated, the public is increasingly made up of content creators who are not passive consumers of media. However, it seems at times that this public is docile when it comes to initiatives by authoritative bodies that restrict creativity and the universal access to knowledge offered by the Internet. I felt that the most thought provoking argument put forth by Swartz’s explained “But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative…those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy”. The sharing of information is needed to expand and develop culture. More people need to develop and become exposed to the sort of literature, similar to Swart, which causes discussion and critical thought that leads to forms of resistance against service providers.

I do not have an absolute answer to the problematic format of CAS. However, if a community builds upon the ideas that Swartz left the Internet community, there is opportunity to develop organizations or initiatives that support open access and the continual sharing of knowledge with a public. I am not saying this will be an easy or straightforward process. Nevertheless, people need to be made aware of the consequences and effects that CAS or other anti copyright regulations will have on future generations.

Society is a Remix {A Hypertext Essay}

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Everyday consumers are involved in the creation of content that often borrows or uses elements from culture through a variety of multimedia (video, images, music, or text). Through this involvement, one is engaging in the act of appropriation, otherwise known as remix culture. Remixing involves individuals taking existing material for their own use, without the consent or acknowledgement of the original creator or owner, and making “original” content. However, in the digital information age, corporations and authors have become increasingly concerned with the validity of copyright, intellectual property, and the fair use argument which creators embrace. Remix culture is needed for citizens to develop their own form of expression where they feel they can belong and have the ability to express themselves creatively within the public domain.

With relative ease of access to the Internet, editing software, and an endless database of information, consumers now more than ever, have the ability to take different aspects of culture, remix them, and make it their own. The development of the web has made it possible for citizens to reassemble parts from earlier media, such as using vintage television shows or movies, and reshaping the intended meaning or purpose (Fagerjord 191). As explained by Mackenzie Wark, “any individual who produces something, an artwork, a song, a text, wants people pay attention to them”. Whether making a mash-up or visual collage, remix culture is a demonstration of individuals actively participating in the re-creation of culture. These “remixers” have a purpose beyond the problematic assumption to make profit or benefit assumed by copyright, patent, and trademark holders. Individuals involved in remixing strive to be original creators of content in order to provide a critical or alternative view outside what conventional mainstream culture offers. As argued by Meier, a strength of culture over the past several hundred years has been the ability of society to take on and express multiple points of view. Henry Jenkins points out that by being involved in remix culture, consumers are taking different parts of media into their own hands and reworking its content and message to serve their personal interests. In a sense, people who remix do so to demonstrate the passion and creativity one has. The remixer’s admiration for culture (music, television, books, films), is demonstrated by taking time and effort to create a new element of culture to discuss and share with society (Steadman 120). However, the core definition of remixing is not clearly defined and agreed upon; constant regulations and capitalist interests create obstacles for the expression of new ideas.

The overarching issue is that companies are trying to constantly limit the freedom of information and intellectual property. Organizations and authors are hesitant to allow any participants of remix culture to use copyright material in fear of irreparable harm or potential loss of revenue. According to Foucault, there was a time when texts were accepted, put into circulation, and given value without any question about the identity of the author. Remixing is the shifting of power from corporate control to the common citizen. Companies do not always see how providing access to their copyrighted material is mutually beneficial. For instance, a recent copyright dispute eliminated any capacity to reproduce a remix of a beloved comic. Restricting creative control seems to be a recurring trend if one attempts to remix elements of culture. Arguably, these companies believe that it is in their best interest to limit the fair use of copyrighted material in order to maximize profit, limiting the potential for creativity.

In order for new ideas to develop culture needs the ability to grow and transform. There needs to be organizations that offer tools and support to oppose limitations of remixing culture and the ability to express creativity. Media owners do not always consider that people who remix are attempting to construct their own views and opinions. By manipulating elements of media, remix culture has provided a way for individuals to create their own stories and build upon them.

                                                                                                                                                                    Works Cited

Fagerjord, Anders. “After Convergence: YouTube and Remix Culture”. International Handbook of Internet Research. (2010): 187-200. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4020-9789-8_11&gt;.

Foucault, Michelle. “What is an author?” in The Art of Art History, Preziosi (ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 299-314

Jenkins, Henry. “From Participatory Culture to Participatory Democracy (Part I)” in Confessions of an Aca-Fan”. March 5, 2007.  Web

Meier, Patrick Philippe. “The Prospects for Cyberocracy,” Irevolution., January 17 2009. 26 Feb 2013. Web

Steadman, Kyle. “Remix Literacy and Fan Compositions.” Computers and Composition. 29. (2012): 107-123. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S8755461512000187&gt;.

Wark, Mackenzie. “Copyright, Copyleft, Copygift.” Meanjin , 2010.Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://classic.skor.nl/3091/en/mckenzie-wark-copyright-copyleft-copygift&gt;. Web

A Hacktivist Playground

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There has been an escalating amount of cyber attacks by a particular hacktivist group known as the LulzSec Group, an affiliate of the increasingly growing Anonymous hacktivist organization. Through unauthorized entry to computer databases and networks, more than 40 companies were targeted, including high-profile brands (Jeep, McDonald’s, Burger King, Microsoft), in a series of online attacks. The LulzSec Group was successfully able to hack and take control of corporate Twitter accounts, orchestrating a combination of visual changes and spamming followers with thousands of tweets.

Before this attack I supported the group Anonymous for performing hacktivist initiatives such as recently breaching U.S. government sites and installing their own version of the arcade game Asteroids, in response to the death of Aaaron Swartz, a well-known internet activist. However, I find it hard to understand how hacking these corporate Twitter accounts is advancing any particular political cause, or is a valid example of activism. How does changing corporate logos to rival brands on Twitter portray to society a message of activism?

Now I am not saying that this was necessarily a bad initiative, I am simply alarmed that a hacktivist organization, in this case LulzSec, it seems is not working towards initiatives that are more representative of the activist component of hacktivism. If these meaningless attacks occur without any form of underlying political message, I fear that these hacktivist groups will loose support or a level of importance with certain members of society who value and perform acts of resistance as a way to fight against authority. Different tactics need to be used by hacktivist organizations in order to continue to gain support from a public who arguably would like to see dramatic changes that benefit society as a whole. There needs to be more creative and well thought out ways to disrupt the system with a purpose and a clear message to signal resistance. It is understandable LulzSec want to have its freedom to say and do whatever they want. However, I believe it is partially the responsibility of the public to be critical of demonstrations of hacking to begin discussing what acts do constitute as hacktivism, when at times the relationship behind hacking and activism is not necessarily clear or straightforward.

I appreciate any feedback you can provide

Ben

 

Hello!

Freedom of Speech

My name is Ben and I am a 4th year Communication Studies student from Wilfrid Laurier University. The purpose of this blog is to explore issues and highlight examples of social resistance within areas and topics related to the public sphere.