Could the Government Really Shut Down Facebook? New Video Explains Threats to Internet Freedom

The government could shut down Facebook, and business interests want to stop copyright violations by capping how much Internet you get to use. Those are some of the takeaways from last week's hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet.

The business lobby, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are on a crusade to shut down MegaVideo and ensure that no 12 year old ever downloads another Bieber song for free. If in service of these highest of ends they should happen to sabotage the integrity of the Internet and institute a Chinese-style censorship regime, so be it.

Here's our new video which reviews the hearing and some of the more present threats to Internet freedom:

A review of recent proposals, website seizures, and arrests:

  1. The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (the "Internet Blacklist Bill") would block your access to sites the government says are engaging in even small amounts of copyright infringement -- no matter what other content they house.

  • The government just arrested one website operator for linking to other sites.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been seizing domain names without due process: they shut down 84,000 sites by accident last month, and government officials think ICE and DHS are claiming powers that would even let them shut down Facebook.
  • Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren -- who opposes the seizures -- made that final point at last week's hearing on online copyright infringement. She noted that, "If ICE is to be believed [Facebook] would be taken down."

    That's a completely reasonable interpretation of the actions DHS and ICE have taken: they've decided that sites containing copyright infringing material can be shut down, as can what they call "linking sites" -- those that link to sites that house infringing content, even if they contain none of their own. Facebook meets both of those standards, so the Feds likely believe they have the authority to take it down.

    That might sound beyond the pale, but DHS and ICE have been taking their cues from big business -- many of the website seizures were directly at the behest of the Recording Industry Association of America, the Movie Picture Association of America -- and the business lobby's absurd wants have no bounds.

    At last week's hearing, Daniel Castro of the business-backed Information Technology and Innovation Foundation suggested that lawmakers try to stop piracy by instituting Internet "pricing structures and usage caps." Groups like Demand Progress have been naively plugging along, fighting policies that block users' access to individual sites, but now big business sees fit to stymie your access to the Internet altogether.

    So there's no telling what sort of trouble DHS and ICE will stir up next. If they want to assert some nuance in their policy that would prevent them from shutting down Facebook and sites like it, they need to come forward and explain it -- but the agencies have dodged reporters' queries since they arrested Bryan McCarthy for linking earlier this month.