The Free Internet Survived 2012, But Will It Be That Lucky Next Year?

    December 29, 2012
    Zach Walton
    Comments are off for this post.

2012 was a dangerous year for the free Internet. Lawmakers and global stakeholders all took a shot at policing and regulating the Internet over the past year to no avail. That doesn’t mean they’ve given up, and 2013 could prove disastrous if certain parties have their way.

To that end, it would be advantageous to look back on all the bills, treaties, etc that threatened the Internet in 2012. As they say, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Internet freedom fighters will have to learn from tactics employed this year to recognize threats to a free Internet before they even emerge.

Were you concerned for the free Internet in 2012? Do you think next year will be worse or better? Let us know in the comments.

The first battle over the free Internet came in January as the much debated SOPA and PIPA came up for vote in Congress. The bills were designed to combat copyright infringement online, but the powers granted to the government to do so were sweeping and overly broad. SOPA in particular gave government the power to censor Web sites on the DNS level thereby removing them from general access to most users. Potential for abuse was high and many feared that the bill would be used to destroy innovation and protect legacy businesses that have yet to adapt to how the Internet does business.

Worryingly enough, it looked like both bills would actually see smooth sailing through both the Senate and the House. Then the Internet banded together and launched a blackout campaign that saw many popular sites like Wikipedia going dark to show people what a world with SOPA could potentially look like. The tactic worked as thousands of concerned citizens called their representatives telling them to vote no on SOPA and PIPA. The bills were finally taken off the table for good in October.

After the threat of SOPA and PIPA subsided, a new threat emerged. It had free Internet proponents even more concerned as it was as international treaty that sought to rewrite international law in favor of large corporate interests. The treaty was called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA for short, and it contained a number of worrying implications. The most concerning part of the treaty was that it would require ISPs around the world to “monitor and censor online communications.” It was not only a threat to free speech on the Internet, but a major threat to online privacy as well.

After many parts of the treaty were leaked, citizens in countries across Europe took to the streets to protest. The protests worked as many countries refused to ratify the treaty and it was finally dealt a death blow in July as the European Parliament voted against it. The treaty was officially shelved, at least in Europe, earlier in December.

All the previous treaties and bills only sought to remove copyright infringing material from the Internet. It’s bad, but it could be worse. Our friends in Washington took on that challenge when lawmakers introduced CISPA and CSA – two bills that aimed to tackle cybersecurity, but threatened to violate any privacy that U.S. citizens may have online. CISPA was definitely more worrisome as it had the support of those who opposed SOPA just a few months prior. The new bill garnered support because it made it easier for companies to share information with government bodies without having to worry about lawsuits from those whose information was shared without consent.

Like the previous bills thus far, both were killed before getting very far. CISPA was able to pass the House, but its Senate counterpart, CSA, was killed time and time again. The latest attempt for passage happened in mid-November with the bill being officially killed for the last time.

The biggest threat by far, however, happened earlier in December when delegates around the world met to discuss an update to a decades old telecommunications treaty. The ITU, or International Telecommunications Union, was met with skepticism as some felt less than scrupulous members of the global community would use the meeting as an opportunity to seize control of the Internet. They did not disappoint as China, Saudia Arabia and others introduced a last minute change to the treaty that would have given them more power over the Internet. The treaty was rejected by the U.S. and much of Europe though, and it was unceremoniously killed.

Do you think these were legitimate threats to the free Internet? Were Internet freedom proponents blowing the potential threat of these bills and treaties out of proportion? Let us know in the comments.

As the above illustrates, 2012 was one hell of a year for Internet censorship and regulations. All of it was defeated, however, and tired Internet freedom fighters can rest easy knowing that the Internet is no longer under attack, right? Wrong. 2013 is shaping up to be an even worse year for proposed Internet regulation as various treaties and bills from 2012 are sticking around into the new year while new treaties and bills will obviously be proposed in due time.

Speaking of relics from 2012, TPP is a prime example of a trade agreement that refuses to die. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is much like ACTA, but it seeks to establish better trade relations between the U.S. and Southeast Asia. It’s similarities to ACTA don’t end there, however, as the treaty is negotiated in complete secrecy without any input from the public or Congress. In fact, many members of Congress are lobbying to have the USTR make negotiations more transparent since they have the constitutional right of approving treaties.

So, where does TPP stand in 2013? It could go either way to be honest. We keep hearing tales of how the treaty is constantly on its last legs as Southeast Asian countries are starting to realize it’s not good for their economy, but the secrecy in which it’s being negotiated makes it hard to tell just how close it is to either death or ratification.

Another worrisome trade agreement to look out for in 2013 is CETA – the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement. It doesn’t directly affect the U.S., but the treaty’s passage could spell trouble for the free Internet around the world as the treaty contains much of the same language that made ACTA so horrible. If ratified, the treaty could be seen as proof that ACTA wasn’t so bad and new attempts to ratify similar treaties could take hold around the world.

The last relic left over from 2012 is Clean IT – an European Commission project that seeks to censor the Internet in the name of protecting citizens from terrorism. The concern is that the project does little to actually stop terrorism and does everything in its power to use the Internet to monitor citizens in everything that they do. What’s worse is that the project turns people into Internet vigilantes where they can submit content that they feel is terroristic or otherwise “bad” to have it removed and those who fail to report any “bad” material would be punished.

As you can see, 2013 is already looking pretty grim and these are just the leftovers from 2012. There’s bound to be more laws, treaties and projects introduced in 2013 that will make SOPA, ACTA and others look like bastions of Internet freedom in comparison.

The free Internet has been a major force of change in the world, and some clearly don’t like that whether they be a legacy business that refuses to adapt or a world power that wants to subjugate its citizens even in the digital world. Either way, the Internet has proven to be resilient to any threats against it thus far and 2013 may prove to be its biggest test yet. It will be fascinating to see how the Internet and those who use it respond.

Do you think the Internet will survive 2013? What are you most concerned about in the coming year? Let us know in the comments.

  • http://www.pclviewer.com Peter Henry

    “legitimate threats to the free Internet”?

    The terrorists will always find a way to sneak about in the dark.I suspect governments are more interested in finding a way to tax the Internet – here is a way they could get some revenue and be a little bit useful.

    All the legislation requiring an ISP to log this or that is a massive misunderstanding of the problem – and the data volume. If you don’t want the bad guys to hide behind the anonymous Internet then give the good guys the chance to be properly identified. If it costs just a modest amount of money/tax (or the equivalent in hassle) to get a signing certificate (PKCS style) that tracks back to legit company or postal address then trivial spam and troll abusive posts will just die. Sure – keep the right to anonymity but lets make it so filters and firewalls have a chance to really work. Don’t speak to any strangers was always good advice!

  • http://none,yet. Richard Grady

    Our country has it’s own laws and constitution and rouge criminals have been trying to undermine them since our nation was founded. Yes, so far we have been able to resist most of their attacks, but we have a band of robber barons here in our own country who no longer feel comfortable here and would like a government with the power to set freedom ideals for themselves and eradicate them for all other citizens. We already have our first nazi law that gives the government the right to arrest and hold a citizen without evidence or trial and I imagine that our grandchildren will recall ‘9/11 as our Reichstag event’. Our forefathers warned us that our nation and its laws were fragile and that the wolves of hell would do all they could to snatch away our freedoms. We must stay vigilant or we will lose AMERICA. Yes, keep the internet free of government meddling

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

    There is only one reason why numerous governments around the world want to limit it and impose restrictions, and that’s because we are actually very close to the collapse of the €.

    Governments know that if a currency collapses they will see scenes reminiscent of Tahrir Square in their own Capital cities. It will happen in London, Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Dublin, Berlin, Washington DC – all over the world.

    These governments spend millions every year on think tanks, they know that as economic collapse deepens and people become more and more desperate the social stability changes and their actions in defending their own upper class will be attacked. This is a preemptive measure to put methods in place which will allow them to silence political opinion on the internet.

    They know that protest requires an audience and a message, and they plan to stop those people from getting their message out and planning any protests which threaten their rule.

    If you need any evidence of this, why has it taken more than ten years since 9/11 for them to decide to do it? Why do it when terrorist acts are successfully being disrupted and prevented? How will any measure they are planning stop criminals from using the anonymous methods they already use?

    Mark my words, these “security” and “crime prevention” suggestions are solely in preparation for the collapse of the €, nothing else makes any sense.

  • Damir

    If happened some way that there are no free internet it would be discovered 4 sure.

    Of course there are a lot of frauds but that happens in the real world too.
    So,free internet will survive 4 sure 4 many years.

  • Fred

    We must be on guard against these continuing threats against freedom. Human nature has not changed since the internet provided the tyrants with something else to control. If anything the tyrants are more in number and more powerful than ever.

  • http://dukeinsuranceagency.com/ Duke

    I was so impressed when wikipedia, mozilla and other web companies all participated in creating awareness around internet freedom. Now it seems that fatigue has set in and we don’t hear anything about it, especially with all the tragedies taking place in the USA.

  • Darren

    World powers will keep chipping away with the same revamped regulations or new ones until the will of the people eradicates to the point that the opposition to them is small enough to ignore.

    They know that it’s only a matter of time before they get something through that the people will accept and once it’s in place changing it will be a comparable doddle; that’s when the real problems will start.

    Put a post on Facebook or Twitter that tells a joke or ridicules someone or just tells other people what you had for dinner or how you are feeling and it will get untold likes and comments.

    Put something serious on them and watch it get ignored as boring or uninteresting. That is where you can see the big problem we face with Internet freedom etc..

    People just don’t get the bigger picture until it’s too late.

    • Frans


      As Immanuel Kant once spoke: Its so convenient to be taken care off..

  • Gerardo

    Internet should, of course, remain free and that it’s in the best interest of all of us. We should make sure it is technically impossible to brake this golden rule.

  • Andrew

    Hi, this is a really useful and eye opening summary of the 2012 activity to harness the Internet for government / security / commercial ends. I hate to seem the prophet of doom and gloom but all these treaties and agreements headline some very distinct activities that governments (or their representatives) and corporations wish to do. So what makes you think they are not already doing them anyway?

    History is littered with examples of where the people in positions of power (responsibility?) have simply gone ahead and done what they wanted to do with out public approval “for the greater good…”

    Personally I’d like to see them go ahead and enact all their treaties. it’s the shake up the Internet needs. It will take us to a 3 tier system… There is already at least one highly secure tier anyway so let’s have one for the government / corporates to believe they control – a nice flowery affair with ads and banners (that only idiots will consider working for and using), then we get one that satisfies general user needs (coded and maintained to lock out the bullshit). All the money (and it must be astronomical) that private supporters are feeding into the worlds’ legal systems to keep these treaties at bay, why not use that to fund ‘tier 2’?

    We can deal with legal precedents and actions against developers working in the new ‘improved’ space as they arise but most importantly, all the issues about not being able to control or harness the new Internet business model will be the catalyst for ruining some of those corporations driving the treaties..

    For anyone to suggest they have a right to ‘own’ the Internet, is sheer arrogance. But then arrogance is something we are used to from our leaders and they are unlikely to stop until they get a result… So lets save time and resources and give it to them. Then watch them burn money hand over fist reigning over it – (IMO) they have no idea what they want and certainly don’t know what they will get, or how to control it if they get it. They just want it because no one else has it and someone somewhere higher up has told them it’s a good idea to have it…

  • Bruno

    As lobbies and big interests accumulate power on a daily basis, it comes as no surprise that their efforts and tactics to filter, censor and choke the voice of freedom will intensify. As creators and users it remains to us to safeguard and protect Internet from being rewritten according to someone’s wishes and interests.

    Unfortunately, I do see a general apathy in these matters and sooner or later, free Internet will simply be a vision of the past, unless people get aware of the importance of free speech and freedom of choice and fight to protect those.


    P.S. Spam in its own way is a big contributor to free Internet, don’t criminalize it. It’s how knowledge gets spread, whether that is useful knowledge to you, it’s your decision and it should remain so.

    • http://www.artsieladie.com Artsieladie

      You are SO right, Bruno. So many people are oblivious about our Internet freedom being in jeopardy, while many others who are, are not grasping the “whole” picture and how disastrous it would be for the Internet to be censored, monitored, and/or controlled …and it would be like it always is, by a select few who are only out for themselves and “their” interests. When we, “the people of the world” lose a “free Internet”, the stage will then be set to be controlled by the power hungry and greedy zealots of the world.

  • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

    I may have missed seeing it mentioned but an upcoming VERY worrisome piece of legislation is what had originally been written to ensure email and online-account privacy was totally rewritten to ensure exactly the opposite, the various arms of Federal, State and Local Government would be able to access anyone’s email or online account with no need of a court order or warrant!

    Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt) bill, which he now says he will not support after what he was doing was published on C/NET, http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57552687-38/leahy-scuttles-his-warrantless-e-mail-surveillance-bill/ would give government agencies carte blanche to pretty much do whatever they wanted with anyone’s digital privacy for just about any reason, all without a warrant.

    He said he no longer supports it but the bill is still coming up for a vote in his Senate Judiciary committee so even though he’s flip-flopped again, it is essentially still on the table.

  • Jake Pavelko

    I’m concerned that commentators like Zach who have no idea how the Internet actually work are increasingly tools of corporate giants who are using them to protect their dominant market positions under the guise of ‘freedom’.

  • http://www.artsieladie.com Artsieladie

    We, the people, MUST stand UNITED against a “controlled and censored Internet by a select few”, whether it be by governments, individuals, the United Nations, or anyone (or ones) else. Turning a blind eye or the other cheek or taking a pretend-to-not-know attitude, can and will likely be most costly, because it is “our” right to freedom of speech and the right to having “uncensored and unbiased information” that we are ALL in jeopardy of losing. We all have a voice. We NEED to put our voices to good use.

    “Control of the Internet boils down to ‘control of the people'”. Seizing control of information will ultimately mean censorship, therefore controlling just what and which information is allowed to reach the people.. of countries.. of the world. “Selective provision of knowledge and truth inevitably breeds selective vision, selective reasoning, and therefore selective action and reaction.” When control of information is gained, people can easily be brainwashed to believe and follow “blindly” whatever agenda is desired by the one or those in control of it. “Knowledge IS power.” Therefore, the unrestrained ability of gaining knowledge from an uncensored Internet is crucial to and for the “people of the entire world”, because the power must always be in the hands of the same, THE PEOPLE, not EVER in the hands of ANY select few.

  • http://justsayingmypiece.com Charlie

    Unfortunately, those bills that ‘survived’ 2011-2012 are bound to make 2013 another year of ‘more-of-the-same’ kind of thing…in my (humble) opinion, that is.

    The ‘powers that be’ who are so interested in getting more control of Internet use (often ‘disguised’ as ’causes’ slightly more noble than that of taking control, of course) will undoubtedly keep pushing to get what they want, y’know? I’m sure some issues will be more legislated and regulated in the near future, especially regarding people’s intellectual property rights and “Internet piracy”. I’m just sayin’…

  • Death to NWO

    Liberties are always removed under the cover of ‘safety’ and ‘protecting the public’. There is an overwhelming desire by the powers that be, to centralize all power and forms of communication capable of influencing public opinion.

  • http://www.familysurvivalcoursebook.com thorax232

    The internet will be the last stand for freedom, it’s stronger than most.


    I seames like we are becoming a communist country.I is time for all people who work in this COUNTRY to unite and get rid of big goverment who is playing mine games whith the people.They are using to intimadate people.The question I have what is legal ab?out the legal system?

    • Frans


      With all due respect; think reversed! Nor Microsoft, nor Google, nor Wiki are what they apear to be. Perhaps they where in an early stage, but that is all history.
      ACTA, SOPA and all these might have been swelled of the table, but this only for a brief moment. They will come back in worse apearance! In fact they have already been implemented, its called SEO. You only have to want to see it.

      If you want to know the future; look in the past, its all written there.

  • James Willis

    I worry more about the backdoor approach where big money subverts any law and simply buys out entities like Google, Wiki or Microsoft.
    What recourse do we then have? We can only hope that good people confront evil even if it would profit them to do otherwise.

  • Bill

    Big Brother is always trying to stay in control. Whether it’s to suppress their subjects or to extract money from their underlings. Either way, they will not stop until they succeed.

  • http://www.webmarkt.ro/ Marvin John

    The internet will not fall. This is our last resort.

    • Frans


      I think your observation is most correct and that Google indeed is a Fox in disguise.

      Last year we spent over 6 months to launch a website. We worked hard and build a very nice and complete site. We did the SEO thing and we where happy, Google was happy, and our site rised fast….. Then came the big SEO update and we had to start from scratch…..
      We worked our buts of again and the site never really came back! So what happened? The answer is simple, BIG Google kept us busy for a good 6 months. Instead of gaining something we lost a lot of time and I think that is what is going on. Its one part of this big international game called control. What we can learn from it is that the controle engine runs full speed. They keep us busy so we do not focus on the real problems in the world. New SEO and another few millions of people are kept very busy for a few months. Mean while Facebook keeps messing with our privacy and keeps us busy in another way…..
      I never had heard about linguistic forensic’s, nor did facial recognition mean anitng to me, untill I started to think and digg in the subject; both are the basics of SEO. So Google does it, facebook does it and the NSA and others are using it against us. So reminds the question; is Google or Facebook what they say they are?
      I think they are not!
      As many times before in history things are not hat they apear to be. Freedom and the right to be free is a reduced product of the one thing you have to do in order to achieve this freedom; give up your freedom and obey laws and rules. The real Google and Facebook builders knew this even before these alledged freedoms existed.
      Build for another purpose, the googles and the facebooks where a part of the package called alledged freedom, in reallity they are part of the control engine that runs this very moment that is taking over the world in a vast speed.
      Just look around and see that this is a reflection of that what is happening in the world. This kind of reversed engineering is the cause of the major changes in the world. We promise you everything (before election) We do as we please (after election). So nothing new under the sun.
      We get what we asked for, Controled Freedom, and with that said, Internet will turn against us as we speack. It does control already our lives, try to do anything without the use of the (build with our collective money and very own computers) Internet; hardly impossible…
      Has any one ever imagined the day that Google does shut down their almost 1.000.000 servers? We would run around like chickens without a head, not having even acces to our own money…
      Than again, aren’t we already running around like headless chickens?

  • http://www.LoftLivingLA.com Ted Trent

    The scariest thing ever happened to me. I run a popular real estate website in Los Angeles. One morning I woke up and my website was not accessible on any web browser. I had posted a link and story summary provided by a local website about Christmas light displays in Los Angeles. I did not COPY the story or infringe on copyright. The ONLY thing I did was summarize my own personal summary the story and provide “the link” to the full story. “The Link” was provided by the website. It was a “share” tool.

    Anyway, the author of the article was not PAID for the article for some reason. Because of this, he filed COPYRIGHT with everyone he could think of. Remember, this is all over a story about where to find Christmas lights in Los Angeles. Anyway, because I provided a LINK to the story…the link the original website PROVIDED, Google, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari all banded my website from appearing in their browsers.

    Because the link was posted in a FORUM section of my website, I couldn’t access the forms because the websites were not available via web browsers. So, my real estate website was down for 3 days in an effort to remedy this. I had no clue what to do. Finally, after 3 days of pleading with Google…YES GOOGLE…I was able to reactivate my website so I could remove the link to the Christmas lights story. Yep, I bet you weren’t expecting the Google angle.

    Google is the policing agents for all these web browsers. So, I had to correspond with Google so that I could resolve these matters. Finally, they understood I had nothing to do with this dilemma. After that, they ALLOWED me to access my website so I could remove the link.

    So, I lost 3 days of business because of a link I posted to a Christmas story on another website who decided not to pay someone for their story about Christmas lights. Yep! It’s only going to get worse from here boys and girls. And if you don’t think this isn’t all leading to us paying to have access to the Internet, I believe we are all wrong. They are creating a dependency on all business to do the Internet and then, when we least expect it. Google is going to be charging us a FEE to have the privilege of appearing on web browsers. Just watch while you wait.

  • http://www.sdgwebdesign.com Steve Kent

    I think the general uniting/group think effect of the Internet will keep it safe, we see such backlashes against risky changes when they are suggested. Some power has come to the people in many ways; Facebook try to change a policy and everyone uses Facebook to tell their friends to block it. That said, I can understand where governments are coming from, a web free of hate or stuff like child porn would be a better one, but how do you achieve that without compromising the privacy and rights of entirely innocent people as well?

    Similarly, is it really a good thing for Wikileaks to release things like names and addresses of operatives in hostile zones, or embarassing/insulting comments some department has made about a foreign power when both could result in people dying, conflict or warfare? Is our life really improved in any way knowing that Mr A thinks country X’s ruler is pain in the a$$? I value most of what Wikileaks does but sometimes it feels too much, the Internet is a beautiful thing and open to abuses in all sorts of ways, we all have to play a part in helping it continue to find it’s feet and evolve in the best way for all.

  • http://www.tipsinablog.com Danny

    The same thing is happening with “Freedom of Speech”….

    The only time in the past I have seen people cowering and unable to speak up as numerous laws prevented this, was when I was in a dictatorship….

    Now I have seen similar “thought crimes” style laws being passed where I live, which is supposed to be a western democracy that values free speech…..

    Soon, privacy and free speech will be a thing of the past….

  • Sandy

    There is a negative force that will always seek to gain control in order to limit freedom of expression, for that is how it maintains control.

    But let us choose to be wiser than the serpent. It’s a mechanism and we just have to see it for what it is. The momentum is growing to the point where many people can realize that we don’t need to keep fighting a jack-in-the-box which will pop up like popcorn all over the place and thus actually achieve its hidden goal of keeping people’s attention focused on struggling against this or that like a ping-pong so that there is less actually expressed toward innovation.

    An antidote of ancient wisdom is to declare that “the emperor has nothing on!”

    We simply continue to create and express and innovate so quickly that the emperor and minions cannot keep up such that any bill or treaty or legislation will be outdated and obviously out of touch with the reality that life has already moved on, and therefore has no chance of success even if it was enacted.

    In essence, the entities already cannot keep up with the acceleration of change and these attempts at legalizing control are aimed at one purpose – to stop, limit, block or slow down the natural flow of creative ideas that will collectively move the whole out of the box and beyond any framework of limitations or restrictions.

    So, if we simply use our attention to continue creating and give up wasting attention on resisting a force that actually has no real power, well then its possible to see that the result would lead to a chain-reaction that would break the cycle of action-reaction which never leads to anything except continuing to struggle.

    Real power is the choice to create and advance the whole. False power is based on desires to destroy and contract growth. Hopefully this is becoming more of an obvious scenario where many can see the futility of trying to stop the mighty universal river from expanding!

    The dream of controlling the world by the elite few is fast fading in the setting sun because the many are ready to rise to a new level of awareness that recognizes this disguise and thus it is unmasked. Any deception based strategy can only work if people remain ignorant to the true cause behind it which is to keep creative people from expressing and sharing freely by tying up the faculty of creative vision by stealing away the attention and causing it to be concentrated and focused on an illusion.

    It is a lesson that can be applied widely.

  • http://Mabuzi.com Mabuzi

    Money money money drives the world and not freedom.

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  • https://restore.solutions/ Numus Software

    Just thought i would point out that over two years later and the free net survived BUT look at the revelations that Snowden showed us all about the net and the NSA..I wonder if the net will be the same this time next year??? watch this space maybe?