Politics and The Internet #
The important laws you need to understand: #
CDA (no pronz) & §230 #
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was the United States Congress’s first notable attempt to regulate pornographic material on the Internet. In the 1997 landmark case Reno v. ACLU, the United States Supreme Court struck the act’s anti-indecency provisions.
Alright, so it was some failed law that tried to ban porn? Well, yeah, BUT it did pass and was only later, in the aforementioned Reno v ACLU case, struck down - and there, only the anti-indecency provisions. This left one very, very important little bit, Section 230, that today the entire internet relies on, The 26 words that created the internet:
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider
In human language, this means Section 230 is what protects Facebook from being liable when some dipshit posts a pirated movie to Facebook, makes a terrorist threat, or just spreads libel. Similarly, it gives the platforms moderation privileges, that is if some Nazi joins your group chat, you can give him the boot.
The big problem right now is whether fact checking, where a little box shows up under a tweet or YouTube video to say something like “Science knows Climate Change is man made and a big fucking problem” or “Biden won the election, stop being such a little bitch” is allowed, or if it makes the site a publisher, there by taking away their §230 protections.
Here, this video covers everything I could say a lot better than I can easily write here, so here’s the two things I’d say are pretty much required reading, Section 230 is Good Actually (EFF.org) and this video from DEF CON:
DMCA (attempting to fix 230, poorly) #
Alright, so 230 made sites not liable at all (ish) but this actually isn’t great either, as what is someone supposed to do if they get their copyrighted work posted online? No reasonable person (or business) can afford to sue literally every time someone posts their shit, so, the DMCA - the Digital Millennium Copyright Act- was born, to steal from Wikipedia:
It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM). It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself.
But this has a whole host of issues. I’m going to redirect this to This page from the EFF though, as I think that does a much better job of explaining the issues, and then you might want to read This list of Criticisms of the DMCA on the Wikipedia page for the DMCA.
More recently, the DMCA takedown of YouTube-dl, a program that lets users download videos from YouTube among many, many other video sites, was a big issue that riled up the technical world, and for which it seems most people think was a flagrant misuse of the DMCA against a tool, not a specific instance of infringing content. Extra stupid when you realize the computer itself could also be argued to be the tool enabling infringement.
The abuse of automated, algorithmic takedowns for the sake of keeping up with the DMCA has also resulted in cops playing music to prevent videos from being on social media (VICE).
Alright, so the DMCA is a dumpster fire burning with a raging satanic hell blaze which only emits darkness, but thankfully the sentient darkness that represents the American people has carved away a few crumbs that we can use to sustain ourselves with in these dire times. The list below are things for which you can safely outright ignore the DMCA and break into things as you please. I’ll go over my favorites, but here’s the list in full on Wikipedia.
- Ebooks can be stripped for the sake of using a text-to-speech system
- Snippets of Movie/Video DRM can be stripped for the purposes of criticism/review, education, and accessibility
- while not directly stated, an exception for ‘Jailbreaking’ and ‘Rooting’ iPhones and Androids was made, so that’s allowed.
- Forcing 3D printers to use 3rd party filament
- “Computer programs, where the circumvention is undertaken on a lawfully acquired device or machine on which the computer program operates solely for the purpose of good-faith security research and does not violate any applicable law”
- In general, if you’re doing it so you can repair the device, you’re all clear as well.
FOSTA/SESTA (Breaking 230) #
FOSTA and SESTA (Wikipedia), the ‘Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act’ and ‘Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act’ are both massive failures. Their original goal is more or less in the name, but even the U.S. Department of Justice said it was a bad idea. Again, I’m going to hand this off to better sources. The first link there, to the Wikipedia article, has a large section on the criticism of the bills. I strongly encourage you read it, and this article from the EFF does a good job of going into its problems too.
These are the bills that caused Craigslist to remove their ‘personals’ section.
SOPA & PIPA (Trying to break everything) #
SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act (Wikipedia) from ~2012 was a big deal at the time. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Tumblr, Mozilla (Firefox), Mojang (Minecraft), Wikipedia, and more were all active in letting users know this bill was bad news. It was effective, but it was one hell of a fight. PIPA (Wikipedia), the ‘PROTECT IP Act’ was just the senate version of the bill, but it is still worth reading up on it quickly, especially the ‘Reception’ section of the linked Wikipedia article.
For a slightly dramatized, dubstep recap: (skip to 2:28)
COPPA & CIPA (Breaking things… For the children!) #
COPA (Wikipedia), the Child Online Protection Act, passed in ‘98 and seeks to keep minors online safe, mostly this just resulting in the ‘Are you 18?’ checks that surely no minor has ever lied to bypass.
Oh, what’s that, that’s COPA with one ‘P’, my bad, here’s COPPA (Wikipedia), Child Online PRIVACY Protection Act. Which if you read up on you’ll see has been a mess for free speech, hurts small business, fails to protect kids anyway, and only seeks to create an artificial (and broken) ‘safe space’ online for kids, which is especially dumb as it ignores the most obvious problem: no kid wants to be treated like a kid. Moreover, why the fuck should kids get privacy protection until 13 and then ope, just like that fuck em’ we’ll collect all their information and sell it to advertisers, what magical thing happens at 14 that makes collecting and selling your data okay? Double standards aside, this has caused real issues in implementation and enforcement, just see What’s Gone Wrong With the FTC’s COPPA Agreement With YouTube (Folding Ideas, YouTube).
CIPA (Wikipedia), the Children’s Internet Protection Act, is a free speech fuck you to all children as it requires web filtering. The ACLU and ALA both challenged CIPA, arguing that the filtering it would necessitate at public libraries would limit free speech, and they won…. and then lost on appeal, with the stipulation that on request a librarian unblock content for an adult. Of course, this is still a major fuck you to kids. It’s more or less normalized school web filters that are far too overzealous, as anybody that went to high school since the 2010s can tell you. Hell, my public school even had sites blocked for ‘Alternative Beliefs’.
Look, I’m not against protecting kids online, no 8-year-old should be exposed to 2 girls and a cup. I know for a fact that some kids get fucked up seeing this shit too early. My mom’s a family law attorney, and while obviously case specifics are kept quiet, general ideas like ‘saw a kid got addicted to porn because the dad showed it to him’ are things I’ve heard. It’s awful. I get it. But you can’t stop a shitty parent with legislation, no matter how hard you try.
GDPR (They tried) #
EARN IT (Breaking things more) #
Patriot Act & FISA (Watching you) #
CFAA (Hack The Planet?) #
[TODO] internet’s own boy: Aaron Swartz
Update, June 3rd 2021: The Supreme Court has restricted the scope of the CFAA, making it less awful
The opinion can be read here. The average person only really needs read point (d) from the syllabus:
(d) The Government’s interpretation of the “exceeds authorized access” clause would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity. For instance, employers commonly state that computers and electronic devices can be used only for business purposes. On the Government’s reading, an employee who sends a personal e-mail or reads the news using a work computer has violated the CFAA. The Government speculates that other provisions might limit its prosecutorial power, but its charging practice and policy indicate otherwise. The Government’s approach would also inject arbitrariness into the assessment of criminal liability, because whether conduct like Van Buren’s violated the CFAA would depend on how an employer phrased the policy violated (as a “use” restriction or an “access” restriction). Pp. 17–20.
So, this ruling has significantly reduced the clusterfuck that CFAA created.
Net Neutrality (and the buying of the FCC) #
HIPAA (attempting to unfuck healthcare a wee bit) #
EARN IT #
Private Internet Policing #
Centralization & Monopoly #
Cloudflare, AWS, etc.
Protecting general computation #
Encryption and illegal numbers #
HDCP master key release (Wikipedia) [TODO, + background on what HDCP is]
Do you own your hardware? software? #
Format shifting #
Data and Privacy #
Terms of Service and EULAs #
Google Amp #
Social Media #
Parler V Mastodon V Twitter