Congress is currently considering legislation that could change the internet as we know it. Because of pressure to stop the violation of intellectual property rights, Congress is considering passing the “Protect IP Act,” which could harm freedom of expression on the internet. At its core, the bill is about stopping piracy and protecting intellectual property rights, but it could do more than that.
If the bill were passed, the Attorney General would be allowed to “create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks,” all without a court hearing (Mackinnon). This could give the Attorney General the right to shut down sites which are currently spark great debate, and allow for individual expression. Additionally, the law could allow private companies to sue service providers that host media which infringes copyright. This means that websites will be held responsible for all content on its website. For example, this would force YouTube to check all videos before they are posted to make sure there is no copyright violation. This has the potential to harm free speech. As the author of this article describes, service providers will tend to over-censor their sites to avoid facing litigation.
Mill would argue that this censorship robs mankind of the benefits of debate. Currently, the internet is a incredible vehicle for discussion and the interaction of opposing viewpoints. Other countries with more strict censorship, like China, do not enjoy the same public debate. However, Mill does acknowledge that there are times when expression is harmful and shouldn’t be allowed. At what point should the government step in, and to what extent should they censor the internet?
If Congress passes this bill, the question arises, at what point will censorship stop? Could censorship extent to political debate? Do you think that internet censorship is necessary at all? Is this bill necessary of misguided?