Governments have no shortage of ways to crackdown on internet freedom. The New York Times reports:
Russia has taken another major step toward restricting its once freewheeling Internet, as President Vladimir V. Putin quietly signed a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, a measure that lawyers, Internet pioneers and political activists said Tuesday would give the government a much wider ability to track who said what online.If we question Russia about this clear censorship, we need clean our own backyard. Russia's new law is an aggressive government move against free speech and press. But Americans must ask, especially those who criticize whistleblower Edward Snowden for accepting asylum from political persecution from the country where the US stranded him, if Russia's action is more chilling than collecting all of bloggers' electronic records on an ongoing basis. Is it more chilling than recording hundreds of millions of Americans' phone calls, and then arguing that once something is collected or recorded, the government can use the information as it sees fit without meaningful oversight from the judicial and legislative branches.
The NSA's mass surveillance operations, coupled with the Obama administration's unprecedented prosecution of national security whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, has had an enormous chilling effect on the freedom of the press. Case in point: Laura Poitras, in accepting the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling last week explained that she simply cannot do her reporting from the United States. (Her must watch video acceptance with Edward Snowden is available here).
However, in the U.S., our democratic processes offer glimmers of reform. Today, the House Judiciary Committee will mark-up the USA FREEDOM Act. The FREEDOM Act is not a fix for all of NSA's mass surveillance activities, and it could emerge from mark-up weaker than when it was introduced. Read Marcy Wheeler for the details. The Electronic Frontier Foundation articulated some of the remaining concerns about The FREEDOM Act:
Nonetheless, we are deeply concerned about the number of "hops" that the bill would permit, as well as the undefined phrase "selection term," which may leave the door open to government attempts to take a nonintuitive interpretation of the language. We are also concerned that this bill omits important transparency provisions found in the USA FREEDOM Act, which are necessary to shed light on surveillance abuses. Finally, we strongly believe this bill should do more to address mass surveillance under Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, a section of law used to collect the communications of users worldwide.The mark-up places surveillance legality squarely under the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee - where it belongs - and not in the secretive Intelligence Committee, which - ironically considering the Intelligence Committee's mandate is to oversee the intelligence agencies - has steadfastly resisted all significant legislative efforts to roll back NSA's invasive programs since 9/11.
Russia deserves criticism for censoring bloggers and dissidents. But the U.S. is throwing boulders in glass house if we don't acknowledge the anti-speech and anti-press actions our own government continues to take under the misguided guise of national security.
Side Note: Unrelated to this post, but incredibly important. Firedoglake.com has organized a May 9, 2014 "Day of Action" to support Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistleblower John Kiriakou, the only person to go to jail in relation to the Bush torture program even though he refused to participate in torture and helped expose it. For anyone in the DC area, join a group of supporters this Friday (May 9, 2014) for visits to Congress to press them to help John receive maximum time in a halfway house. Details are available here.