Freedom of Speech on the Internet is the ‘Paramount Concern’

More thoughts on the unintentional consequences of the SOPA and PIPA, and the significance of their defeat, from former Sen. Ted Kaufman. Full version at the The Cagle Post.

Initially, concern about Internet counterfeiting and piracy looked like just another battle about money, with Hollywood studios, the recording industry, and book publishers on one side and Google, Facebook, and most of Silicon Valley on the other. This kind of thing happens all the time, not just in Washington but in state capitols and local councils. The moneyed interests line up on both sides, and employ well-paid advocates to argue their cases. Buckets of money go to the winners, but seldom do average people who will be affected by the results get a chance to exert much influence….

What became evident was that this was not just a battle over money. It was most profoundly about freedom of speech.

It has always amazed me how we Americans take freedom of speech for granted. I spent thirteen years on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, appointed by Presidents Clinton and Bush, The Board oversees all non-military U.S. government broadcasting abroad, including the Voice of America.

I saw time and again how governments around the world frustrate freedom of speech and freedom of the press. There are still countries that throw dissidents in jail and close media outlets. But more often, governments use more nuanced methods.

They enact laws to define who can be a journalist and what constitutes libel, and control what is permitted on the Internet.

The existing SOPA and PIPA bills would have made it easy for businesses to limit speech with no prior notice or judicial hearing. They could have shut down websites by filing a notice alleging the site was “dedicated to the theft of U.S. property.” Perhaps some web pages should be closed, but this is a very slippery slope. Maintaining real freedom of speech on the Internet must be our paramount concern.