It’s The Law, Stupid.

It's The Law!

From the prohibition of The Pirate Bay to the backlash against the SOPA, from Anonymous to the rise of Twitter, it seems you can’t do much these days without technology and the internet interjecting in some of the biggest news stories of the day.

Sometimes this is good – the use of social media networks during The Arab Spring, for example, where the people themselves recorded and detailed the horrific and brutal measures their leaders were willing to go to to suppress their freedoms. And the very public backlash over superinjunctions – a legal device that was both brutally encompassing and dangerously suspect.

But a lot of the time this is bad – and that previous example is a good point to make, as is the rise and rise of Anonymous and the various hacktivist groups that claim to be branches/offshoots of the group. The Pirate Bay is another clear example, and the louder and louder calls from various businesses to tighten regulations on the internet. For what good the internet can do, the internet is also comparable to The Wild West. Sure, you get good men and sheriffs and dames and nice areas, but there is a lot of wild uncharted space for most that is inhabited with criminality, bandits and general unpleasantness.

The internet is a curious thing – the anonymity that most providers give to their users is shocking as well as surprising; for most of us, we have to willingly break that anonymity first before we can stand up and talk. More and more blend into the sea of voices, and the sea of voices tends to just sound like noise for the most part. There is no need to go against the grain – just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The problem comes when the power of anonymity the internet brings collides with the law. There are rules in the real world that the internet often doesn’t really like to believe matter – the right to a trial by jury based on evidence, rather than trial by bullying because someone doesn’t like someone else. Businesses spend millions making games and software, only for a small portion of people to crack it open and offer it for free – effectively, intellectual theft. The right to be safe and secure, where more and more hacktivists seek to irreparably destroy the fragile trust placed into secure networks on the internet. From illegal spam to the sale of otherwise restricted pharmaceutical drugs.

The internet can do amazing things but be under no illusions that for all that is good and decent about this amazing modern invention, there are murky and nasty shadows to it too. And without boundaries, without some laws and lines drawn in the sand, the nasty side is allowed and capable of growing out of control, like a cancerous growth on an otherwise healthy body. They grow and peddle their filth and nastiness with reckless abandon, totally uncaring or aware of the pain that they can cause to others with a few simple words on Facebook.

Which is why many are now seeking very harsh restrictions on the internet. The argument is that freedom is all well and good, but a large percentage of individuals have proven that freedom without the law is anarchy, and it is starting to bleed into and hurt the physical world.

I do agree to a point as well. The internet is fantastic but it’s become more and more blurred in the last few years, as we ask ourselves if certain things should be allowed to happen. Freedom without control is anarchy, of course it is. The internet is proof of it – give millions of people everything they want and leave unregulated for a few years, and the end result? Chaos.

It’s true that what laws and regulations are being trotted out now for this issue are both outdated and behind the times – an off switch for porn? Okay. Maybe not the best idea but I can buy some prudes will take that. Throttling P2P? Lots of totally legit games use P2P for seeding their own patches with their own game clients – combating “file sharing” means hurting the legal side just as much if not more than the illegal side.

But the attitudes of hackers is that they will continue to hack – and hack government and police databases – unless they stop their move to censor the internet. This is a facetious argument – they demonstrate the exact NEED for some restrictions by acting like lone gunmen holding people to ransom. Do the restrictions need to be draconian? No. But nor do we need individuals and groups responding to the threat with a declaration of war – this can only ever hurt those of us who just use the internet for normal stuff – gaming, blogging, reading, occasionally buying cheap stuff from Amazon…

Truth is this boys and girls – the law is an ass, but it’s the best we’ve got. If we continue to see hate campaigns on teenagers to the point they commit suicide, and then watch as these horrendous people troll their pages to further inflict emotional torment on their families long after the fact, then we’ve got to stop people being allowed to do this. If we continue to break superinjunctions – they are the law, no matter how utterly stupid and undemocratic it is – then the law is going to want to encompass the blogs and Twitter and social media as well to ensure that these things are enforced and enforcable. If we continue to see millions of dollars lost because sites are DDoS’d down by a bunch of thugs, then those corporations and behemoths are going to want to come down hard on them and recoup some of that money they spend fixing it.

We see the internet as an open playing field, where we can do what we want without the guilt of responsibility. The problem is that more and more of it is getting personal, dangerous, offensive and disturbing – it reflects poorly on society, because if we wouldn’t act this way in the street then why are we acting this way on the internet?

To keep people safe, to keep businesses safe and to keep democracy safe, some regulations and laws need to be upheld on the internet. It’s a lovely thing, this internet, but it’s dangerous too. And whilst I don’t want health and safety tossers dictating where I can and can’t go, I don’t particularly want to turn a corner and be mugged by a group of criminals either.

The problem with freedom is it comes with responsibility to use that freedom in good faith. The last 15 years has demonstrated that we are not ready to be given that responsibility as a collective whole – and as such, yes. It is time for some basic regulation – the first, and arguably strongest, step is to make individuals accountable for their actions online, in much the same way we are in the physical world. The moment people realise they can’t act like savages on the internet otherwise their freedoms will be taken away, things will settle.

You will never be completely rid of it though – idealistic as it all may be, we still in the real world have disease, poverty, war, crime. That’s the universe for you – good and bad need to co-exist. Too much of the good can be draconian and seen as dictatorial. Too much of the bad is anarchic and chaotic.

We just need to learn to accept that something needs to be done. It’s the law, stupid – and it’s time the internet adhered to it more. More than that, it’s just common sense – not all of it is good, not all of it can work, but there are legal and legitimate avenues to voice your displeasure in this day and age. We don’t need to break the law just to prove a point.

Because someone still gets hurt. Actions have consequences – and that is something that a generation of people have grown up not knowing…

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