Yes, even this.

Friends, I’ve spotted two disturbing trends. The first is that the freedom of the Internet is being steadily eroded. The second is that as soon as you mention this to people you get scoffed at. And then they make sweeping claims about how “the Internet can’t be controlled” and “the people will always find a way around these things”.

Ah, if only that were true.

What if I were to tell you that there are already THREE solid proposals on the table that, if abused, could completely remove Internet freedom?

Well, there are, and they aren’t “out there” conspiracy theories or fringe positions that carry no weight. In fact one of them has gotten the stamp of approval from President Obama himself.

Equal rights for all races: America, the 70s. Australia, the 80s. South Africa, the 90s. Equal rights for all social classes: still waitng, worldwide.

1. Internet ID Tokens

What is it?
Proposed by Obama’s cybersecurity head, Howard Schmidt, the so-called “Internet ID token” would be a “smartcard” or “digital certificate” that would authenticate people’s identities everywhere on the Internet. This one identity will be used for everything from online shopping to email to Facebook. You can read the whole first draft here.

How might it be good?
Well, it would make it much more difficult for people to steal your identity. It would also make it easier to track down online criminals, frauds, hackers, possibly even email spammers. It would bring a genuine sense of “true” identity to the Internet. And similar plans are getting limited support in Europe.

How could it go horribly wrong?
There is nothing to suggest that the use of these ID tokens would be limited to “formal” uses of the ‘Net like online shopping. There is no reason why websites couldn’t demand that all users buy into this system before they can use the site. Many sites require you to give them an email address before you can use their services. This would be an extension of that.

Some commenters have also noted that the danger of a single identity is that if the one identity is compromised, as it inevitably will be, then someone could gain access to all your online activities at once. At the moment hackers are limited in what they can do because most people are smart enough to have multiple passwords for different things. But if your smartcard gets stolen then someone could hack your bank account as easily as your email.

Furthermore, if these tokens come into play it is likely that later legislation would make it mandatory for all Internet services to require their use.  If that happens then the anonymity that the Internet offers would be gone in a flash.

"The only real freedom we have is integrity, and it is the one thing that can never be taken away, it can only be surrendered" - Alan Moore

Some will of course say that there isn’t any way to stop people from going on the Internet, with or without these tokens.

Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. If it becomes law that all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must abide by legislation that guarantees the use of these tokens then there is no way for us to get around them.

What are you going to do, start your own ISP? Because that’s regulated too you know…and speaking of which…

2. FCC Regulation

What is it?
Essentially, the FCC trying to include a provision in their new “Net Neutrality” regulations that would allow them to funnel all communications traffic in your home (i.e. TV, phone and all Internet) through a single box that the FCC would control.

How might it be good?
Once again this kind of regulation would make it easier for the authorities to protect you from identity theft or from scams, viruses, hackers etc. In addition Net Neutrality itself is absolutely vital for the future of the Internet, because it will prevent ISPs from restricting bandwidth to only those services that make them the most money.

In other words without net neutrality it would be possible for ISPs to decide that Facebook, YouTube or even Google are taking too much bandwidth, and restrict their users’ access to these sites, placing them on incredibly slow connections. Unless of course the websites, or the users are willing to pay a “premium rate” for service…

Net Neutrality seeks to ensure that no one is able to privilege any type of  Internet access over any other type, and thus it seeks to protect freedom of the Internet.

But, the idea of funnelling all communications through a box that the FCC controls is deeply troubling.

How could it go horribly wrong?
Oh come on, you really need to ask? Look at what a fantastic job the FCC has done of regulating television and you will see why people are terrified of them getting control of the Internet.

This isn’t an idle threat either. Through the power of the box the FCC could simply block access to sites it doesn’t like (4chan and YouTube would probably be first) and also prevent you from using services like Tor that allow you to circumvent censorship.

Essentially, the Internet would become like mainstream media: flat, unchallenging, supportive of the status quo and dominated by groups that are loud enough, or rich enough, to lobby the FCC into acquiescing to their will. Some bloggers have suggested that we remember the Janet Jackson nipple slip “scandal” for a taste of how well the FCC deals with stupid people in large groups.

And here’s another thought. Noam Chomsky is one of the most important political commentators in American history. Even if you disagree with what he says you have to recognise that his ideas are greatly influential, and should be discussed. But he can’t get any time on mainstream media in America for love or money. It’s like he doesn’t exist, which is exactly how his critics want it.

So what would it be like if he was disempowered on the Internet as well?

"If you don't believe in free speech for those you despise then you don't believe in free speech" - Noam Chomsky

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