With Net Neutrality Repealed ISPs Now Have the Censoring Power of an Authoritarian Government
I grew up in Iraq, under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. One of the many reasons I left that place was to find freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of information. The free, open access of information is one of the building blocks of a true democracy. In many countries, even today, that free and open access doesn’t exist. China notoriously blocks everything from Facebook and YouTube to news articles portraying the government in a negative light. In the UAE, you’re forced to agree to use their certificate to access certain sites. In North Korea, even accessing the internet is difficult because of government censorship.
Authoritarian countries censor what you can see while you’re online and have full access to all of your data and history. They can see everything you post, track every site you’ve visited and know every password or bank code you’ve ever accessed. They can control what information you can access. There’s no such thing as online privacy or free exchange of ideas when that much power is in the hands of the government.
But what if that power is in the hands of corporations?
If corporations have the power to throttle, which is arguably just a more reassuring word for "censor," is that really a free society? If they have the power to sell "free speech" to the highest bidder, is that really a free society? If they have the power to access any and all of your private data, is that really a free society?
Of course it isn’t.
Americans have become so fearful of an over-powerful government, they underestimate the dangers of over-powerful corporations. Yes, we must be wary of handing too much authority to the government -- trust me, I’m well aware of the danger that poses. In Iraq, speaking out against the government meant risking your life, and that of your family. We obviously want to be cautious of the power we give government. But we aren’t protecting ourselves from an abusive government by deregulating net neutrality -- we’re handing power over to abusive corporations. These ISP’s were not afraid to throttle sites they didn’t like even when it was illegal. Now that we’ve made it legal, do you think they’ll behave with your best interest at heart? Or do you think they’ll behave within the interest of their bottom line, no matter the cost to our economy or our democracy? History tells us we can expect the latter.
Without net neutrality, corporations like Comcast or Verizon have unrestricted power to data mine -- no matter how private your Facebook settings, they’ll be able to access it. They have unrestricted power to block any content they choose: If they don’t want you seeing it, you won’t be able to see it, regardless of your need or their excuse. Without net neutrality, we’ve essentially given ISP’s the same outrageous power exercised by authoritarian governments in countries like China, UAE or North Korea. We’ve given these corporations a level of power we wouldn’t dream of giving our own government, because we have grown fearful of government itself instead of fearing the real danger: an abuse of power. We forget that it’s not government that’s inherently dangerous, it’s the unbalanced and unchecked power those authoritarian governments wield. That kind of power is a danger to society, whether it’s in the hands of a president or a CEO.
Thankfully, because we don’t live in an authoritarian dictatorship, we don’t have to fear for our lives or that of our family. We do have solutions on the consumer side, in the form of VPNs like Private Tunnel, which will give you your own personal net neutrality as you surf the web. With a VPN, ISPs won’t able to access your private data. They won’t even be able to see what sites you’re visiting, and therefore won’t be able to censor or throttle those sites accordingly. So if you want to maintain your browser’s net neutrality from a consumer standpoint, that’s your solution.
But a VPN does not protect your freedom of speech; it only protects your freedom of consumption. When it comes to actually sharing information, not just surfing the web, without net neutrality you have no protection from throttling. If you want to start your own online business, launch your own website or even publish a news article online, you have no protection. You can only hope that your users have VPNs; otherwise, you’re at the mercy of the internet service providers. If that corporation wants to block the information you’re sharing, there’s nothing you can do about it. If they want to sell the ability to block what you’re sharing, there’s nothing you can do about it. If they want to charge you hand-over-fist for the ability to exercise your free speech, there’s nothing you can do about it.
That doesn’t sound like a free democracy to me. That doesn’t sound like free speech, and it certainly doesn’t sound like the free exchange of ideas and information. That sounds like we’ve given corporations the power to censor our media and invade our privacy with absolutely no legal ramifications. We can hope Congress eventually takes action, or that more states take Washington state's lead and impose their own laws -- but until then, your freedom of speech has no protection from ISP censorship.
I don’t want to live in a country where authoritarian leaders make it difficult for citizens to exercise their freedoms; I left that place long ago. Freedom of speech, free exchange of information and unimpeded privacy are essential human rights. They were never meant to be available for purchase. Unfortunately, by letting net neutrality die, we’ve essentially put out the "for sale" sign.