By George Washington. Cross posted from Washington’s Blog.
Leading American Internet businessmen warn that the draconian copyright bill on the verge of being passed by Congress would let the US government use censorship techniques “similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran.”
If you want to know what the United States would look like after this bill is passed, just look at what’s been happening in Russia: The Russian government has been crushing dissent under the pretext of enforcing copyright law.
As the New York Times noted last year:
Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years. Security officials say the inquiries reflect their concern about software piracy, which is rampant in Russia. Yet they rarely if ever carry out raids against advocacy groups or news organizations that back the government.
[A] review of these cases indicates that the security services often seize computers whether or not they contain illegal software. The police immediately filed reports saying they had discovered such programs, before even examining the computers in detail. The police claims have in numerous instances been successfully discredited by defendants when the cases go before judges.
The plainclothes officers who descended upon the Baikal Wave headquarters said they were from the division that investigated commercial crime. But the environmentalists said they noticed at least one officer from the antiextremism department, which tracks opposition activists and had often conducted surveillance on the group.
Baikal Wave’s leaders said they had known that the authorities used such raids to pressure advocacy groups, so they had made certain that all their software was legal.
But they quickly realized how difficult it would be to defend themselves.
They said they told the officers that they were mistaken, pulling out receipts and original Microsoft packaging to prove that the software was not pirated. The police did not appear to take that into consideration. A supervising officer issued a report on the spot saying that illegal software had been uncovered.
Before the raid, the environmentalists said their computers were affixed with Microsoft’s “Certificate of Authenticity” stickers that attested to the software’s legality. But as the computers were being hauled away, they noticed something odd: the stickers were gone.
In all, 12 computers were confiscated. The group’s Web site was disabled, its finances left in disarray, its plans disclosed to the authorities.
The police also obtained personnel information from the computers. In the following weeks, officers tracked down some of the group’s supporters and interrogated them.
“The police had one goal, which was to prevent us from working,” said Galina Kulebyakina, a co-chairwoman of Baikal Wave. “They removed our computers because we actively took a position against the paper factory and forcefully voiced it.”
“They can do pretty much what they want, with impunity,” she said.
Mr. Kurt-Adzhiyev said he now realized that the authorities were not so much interested in convictions as in harassing opponents. Even if the inquiries are abandoned, they are debilitating when they require months to defend.
Since the American copyright bills (SOPA and PIPA) target online activities, the same thing happening to Russian critics’ computers could happen to the websites of any Americans who criticize the government, the too big to fail banks, or any of the other powers-that-be.
Indeed, the American copyright bill is modeled after the Chinese system. As I noted Monday:
Given that Joe Lieberman said that America needs an internet kill switch like China, that the U.S. economy has turned socialist (at least for friends of those with control of the money spigot), and that the U.S. government used communist Chinese torture techniques specifically designed to produce false confessions in order to sell the Iraq war, I guess that the bill’s Chinese-style censorship is not entirely surprising.
Of course, it might seem over-the-top to worry about copyright laws being used to stifle government criticism in America … if it weren’t for the fact that:
- The U.S. government has been using anti-terrorism laws to crush dissent
- In modern America, questioning war, protesting anything, asking questions about pollution or about Wall Street shenanigans, supporting Ron Paul, being a libertarian, holding gold, stocking up on more than 7 days of food, or liking the Founding Fathers may get you labeled as a suspected terrorist
- We’ve gone from a nation of laws to a nation of men making laws in secret