Just like it is happening (or at least, some are trying to make it happen) in Italy, where the Berlusconi government is trying to have a bill approved which would dramatically limit freedom of expression, thus placing a gag also on blogs which are regarded as the last real free means of expression on the Net, it looks like the US as well are somehow trying to gag the Web.
In Italy, an amendment to what has been nicknamed “gag bill” gives bloggers the obligation to rectify their posts within 48 hours of a possible request received by anyone who might get offended; in case of non-compliance they would be subject to a fine of 12500 Euros, thus forcing them to choose: if for example they want to go out on a weekend or a short holiday, they should always be near a computer… or alternatively (and this is what this bill seems to be obviously designed for) they should not publish their posts at all, giving them the possibility to go on holiday even for a full month, not forgetting to put their freedom of expression in their bag as well…
In the US instead, the Senate is discussing a bill named “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act”, which would allow the President to control the Web by giving him the power to order, in case of potential threats to national security coming through the Web, to abide by some unspecified “emergency measures” which might go as far as shutting down websites or search engines. Try to imagine for a moment that Obama (or one of his successors) might for example shut down Facebook or Twitter if their pages are used to carry messages seen as a threat to national security.
According to this bill, an Office of Cyberspace Policy would be created, which in cooperation with another newly-created Internet security center should identify any key infrastructures which, in case of collapse, might generate a series of disastrous events; furthermore, these offices would set up the emergency measures to protect the infrastructures, which are then ordered by the President. The only limit to the Office’s power would be a preemptive notice to the Congress before putting these restrictive measures (which can be renewed or prolonged by Presidential decree) into effect.
The bill has been presented by Sen. Joe Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut) who already a couple of years ago had an attempt at trying to add into the Terrorism Prevention Act the possibility for the Government to control the Internet infrastructures and ultimately the power to shut down, by President’s order, any site whose existence may be defined as dangerous for security of the United States.
These measures might potentially give a single man absolute control powers over the net, or at least, a discretional power that would allow him to control a large part of freedom of expression, guiding it into a certain (limited) range of possibilities. Obviously, the technical feasibility of this idea is not that easy to implement (the Web 2.0 users are always a tad faster than their controllers).
But what is bothering is that not only the Internet privacy, but the freedom of thought on the Net must be the object of lawmaking, and that the policy of too many governments, liberal only by name, is slowly but inevitably switching towards a dangerous authoritarianism, aimed at controlling free thought and its expression as if it were the most dangerous of foes.