The Internet blackout by many of the big names in response to proposed US legislation isn’t the first time law makers and internet pioneers have faced up to each other, and its also not the first time that national legislation, attempting to target a national issue, has had potentially significant impacts on the running of the international internet.
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about the global challenges being posed by the US proposal for a domestic “Internet kill switch“; if the US Government were to switch off the US portions of the Internet it would not just deny UK citizens access to common services but may also kill entire portions of the UK’s internet access because of the global nature of internet peering.
There is no simple answer to this. Of course national Governments must act in their own self-interests but when it comes to the Internet the impact is seldom felt by local citizens alone. Internet Governance, thus far, has been largely successful in developing a fairly egalitarian, global phenomenon outside of national governance but we are entering a new world where national security, health and prosperity depend on the future running of the Internet – this makes it politically very important, not least to key knowledge economies like the UK.
US citizens have typically been more aware of this than many other nations – the importance of net-neutrality is a deeply emotional, heart-felt thing in the US but has so far been largely missed by UK citizens and is totally ignored in Ireland where the lack of transparency is actively marketed by the largest operator.
The reaction to the Internet blackout in response to the US SOPA proposals was interesting. It seemed to mark the awakening of debate beyond the US. I didn’t hear much from politicians outside of the US but the interest from commentators went beyond simply bemoaning that they couldn’t look things up on Wikipedia. When Jonathan Agnew from BBC’s Test Match Special comments about the importance of the internet and the problems that SOPA may introduce on Twitter, then it must have become mainstream.
My own position is that while copyright of course needs to be protected, the ramifications of any loosely drafted legislation can have far wider impacts, and the implementation of internet legislation specifically will always have implications far beyond national boundaries. Any Government considering a move like this today has a responsibility to world citizens and not just the self-interests of one sector of their local economy.
Today requires a generation of Internet-savvy politicians who can find new world solutions to old world problems like copyright.