The United States of America has a vast internet network, with most of the people in the country having access to the internet. Although the options for broadband or wireless internet connections in the USA are limited, the quality of those providers is good. All the different forms and technologies of the internet are available in USA like broadband, FTTP, wireless, ADSL, dial-up, etc.
As of 2014, 87% Americans had access to the internet and were active on it. However, in countries like the USA, internet availability is not an issue anymore today. The issue of the time is the freedom of people on this internet and how much, if at all, is the internet regulated by the government.
Internet censorship in the USA
The US Law allocates internet as an information service rather than a telecommunications service, meaning that the internet has no strict provisions for net neutrality like other telecommunications services. However, this has not prevented the citizens from having a neutral internet network, with ISPs not charging them differentially based on their usage.
There have been strict laws protecting people’s freedom of expression in the USA, which is extended to the internet as well. However, it is no secret that USA government has one of the strongest censorship regimes for watching over its citizens using agencies like the NSA. We take a look at the censorship and surveillance scenario in the USA now. The Sony Pictures Hack revealed that US ISPs indulge in IP address blocking of unauthorized file sharing websites.
- Rise in Government Censorship Requests
This was first reported by Google in 2012 when the company revealed in its transparency report that a lot more requests to censor the content on Google platforms like YouTube, and the Google search engine had been coming in from the US government.
The rise in 2012 was a reported 712%, with many law enforcement agencies requesting the company to take down content due to alleged harassment. There were also over 6,000 requests for user data made by the US government to Google in 2011. Out of these, 93% were complied with in some part.
The Stop Online Piracy Act was first introduced in US House of Representatives in 2011. The main purpose of this proposed law was to enable the United States Department of Justice and copyright holders to take action against websites that facilitate copyright infringement and are outside the US jurisdiction.
The court order which would be requested by the Department of Justice would include barring of online advertising networks as well as payment facilitators from doing business with those found guilty of this practice. ISPs would block access to these websites, and search engines would remove links to these websites as well.
Many people have argued against this law, which is why it is still a proposed law. The main bone of contention for those that oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act is that they believe it is a form of censorship. This is because the copyright holder and the Department of Justice would be involved in managing what the people can and cannot access on the internet.
- NSA Prism
Ever since ex-NSA workman and whistle-blower Edward Snowden made public some facts about the NSA’s involvement in censoring the internet and all forms of communication in the USA, things haven’t been the same. People were distraught with shock to find out just how close an eye was being kept on them by the NSA.
This surveillance program would monitor all emails, instant chat messages, the general online activity, as well as text messages and phone conversations between people in the United States of America. Everything that the US citizens would do on the internet, the NSA would know.
This required the data of global corporations like Facebook, Microsoft, Google, etc. to be frequently accessed by the NSA. Although these organizations say that they had no knowledge of anything like this happening, Edward Snowden said otherwise. According to him, even the NSA with all its resources could not have pulled something like this without any of these organizations having the faintest idea about it.
Whatever be the case, the fact remains that the privacy of US citizens had been, and still is, constantly violated. The web of censorship over the US citizens grows ever so intricate with the NSA’s continued activity.
The Trans Pacific Pact is a pact signed between 12 nations of the world to facilitate free trade among them. However, the real documentation of the Pact reveals that other than removing trade tariffs between the member nations, there are provisions to enable copyright owners to block websites that they feel indulge in copyright infringement.
Vague references to laws pertaining to internet censorship and web content filtering have drawn criticism from the people. The signing of this pact means that the member nations would collaborate with one another to spy on their citizens and share the personal data of regular users with one another.
Protecting privacy in the USA
If you are a US citizen and use the internet without any additional tools, you cannot expect to have any sort of privacy or anonymity on the internet. The level of involvement of government agencies like the NSA has prompted people to go for solutions like VPNs, and rightly so. VPNs encrypt your internet connection and mask your true IP address.
The IP visible to anyone is that of the VPN server and not of your system. This means that while using a VPN your identity is safe and your internet activity hidden from all prying eyes. Just make sure that you don’t go for VPNs based in the USA, for the US laws require VPNs to keep activity logs of their users and hand over these records when requested for by the authorities. This would mean that your purpose of using the VPN in the first place would be defeated altogether.
The United States of America is one of the most shining examples of how a democracy should work, but the country fails miserably when it comes to democracy on the internet. The government actively monitors people’s online activity, as has been highlighted by Edward Snowden in 2013. If you are a US citizen and want to have some semblance of a private life, then use tools like VPNs when using the internet.