Commercial encroachment on the freedoms and liberties of Canadians is a very real and immediate threat to us all. Yet, this is hardly ever seriously discussed among the ‘core’ of conservative and pro-freedom thinkers.
It seems that the ‘government’ types and ‘corporate’ types of freedom fighters (in our current, non-violent use of the expression) do not talk much – even regard each other with a significant degree of suspicion. This could, perhaps be because they usually come from such very different backgrounds and usually do not share common educational base or many leisure-time interests. Even their language is so different, they don’t ‘get’ each others’ message.
That is a pity, because each side is only getting a part of the picture…. and, what was that thing about ‘divide and conquer’?
John Perry Barlow, the co-founder of Electronic Frontier (and a former lyricist for ‘The Grateful Dead’) has very perceptively analyzed the corporate threats to freedom of speech in his 1994(!) article, The Economy of Ideas.
“Notions of property, value, ownership, and the nature of wealth itself are changing more fundamentally than at any time since the Sumerians first poked cuneiform into wet clay and called it stored grain. Only a very few people are aware of the enormity of this shift, and fewer of them are lawyers or public officials.”
Barlow explains how, traditionally, people protected their ‘ideas’ through physical control over the means of expressing these ideas: a book is a tangible object which can physically be controlled, an inventor ‘owned’ the ‘idea’ in the form to holding the right to produce objects which made ‘use’ of this idea in the very particular product she/he invented, and so on. The ‘idea’ itself, once expressed, was ‘in the public realm’ and everyone had access to ‘learn it': that generates progress.
This has all changed: now, ideas can spread without a physical vessel one could control, it is now ‘the ideas themselves’ which are the valuable bit. Barlow makes the case that corporate interests will, if allowed, protect their investment in their ‘ideas’ and that could involve significant curbing of our freedom of expression.
He wrote this in 1994 – and what he warned of is already coming true.
‘Protection of their intellectual properties’ has permitted, for example, the entertainment industry to successfully lobby governments to legalize really, really invasive ‘digital locks’ on their ‘products’.
Here is just one such example, where the corporate world is permitted to treat its customers as criminals by default, and curb their individual rights in the name of protecting their product:
Far from being simply a mechanism to prevent copying, these ‘digital locks’ often include ‘executable code’ which, without the computer owner’s knowledge or permission, install themselves very, very deeply into the computer (at times, removing the ‘lock’ may damage the computer on which it had been installed), search all the files on the hard drive and report all this information, via an internet connection the ‘lock’ itself initiates, back to the company that put the lock on.
This, ostensibly, is to make sure that there are no other ‘stolen files’ on the computer. In reality, it permits that corporation full access to every program, every bit of data, every file, every picture on your computer – and the laws that permit the corporations to install this on your computer without your knowledge do not, even a little bit, address what this corporation may or may not do with all the stuff it found on your computer. That is, frankly, quite frightening!
But that is just the tip of the iceberg – in just one industry!
Please, don’t call ‘Godwin’s law’ one me now, but, I will mention ‘THE OLYMPICS’!
Everyone just shrugged their shoulders and blamed ‘The Chinese Government’ for the zeal with which the names of any business which did not pay protection money was not ‘an Olympic Sponsor’ were covered up: from sticky tape over faucet brand marks to sheets covering the name of a nearby hotel. The media treated it as some sort of a ‘cute Chinese thing’. But, it was not a ‘Chinese thing’, nor was it ‘cute’!
It was an IOC (International Olympic Committee) thing. The IOC claims that without this draconian censorship, it could not make money.
Why should anyone’s desire to make money outweigh people’s rights and freedoms?
But, that was China – it could never happen here!
The Vancouver 2010 Olympics are an example in how corporate interests strip people of liberty!
The IOC has demanded that Vancouver create a ‘buffer zone’ around the Olympic Venues where all speech, signage, logos, symbols and any other means of communication be strictly controlled. And, since it’s ‘The Olympics’, the various levels of government complied.
They passed a series of bylaws which not only made it illegal to display the brand-name of a ‘non-sponsor’, but also where any sentiment which was not ‘celebrating the Olympics’ was forbidden from being expressed! Public and private property!
Oh, and driving on some public roads would also be illegal for mere ‘citizens’ (similar ones are planned for the 2012 Olympics: that makes it a pattern, not a ‘cute Chinese thing’)….and if you happen to own an aerial sight-seeing company – well, you’ll be forbidden from earning a living, because it ‘needs to be controlled’ during the Olympics, too.
If, for example, you were to put up curtains which were made of a fabric that said ‘Olympics Suck’ in your window, you could have ‘officials’ enter your property and remove the offensive curtains, without a warrant and without your permission: then, you could be charged a financial fine ($10,000 per day) or tossed in jail or both!
This is Canada?
Under pressure, the Vancouver city council has attempted to soften the harshest bits of these oppressive laws: at least, the bits that look the most oppressive. But, I don’t know how much of an improvement the latest version of is…. Now, they have pretty much handed the right to decide what forms of expression will and will not be censored to ‘The Olympic Sponsors’ – the corporations propping up this oppressive organization!
If this is not an ‘Olympic Sponsorship Scandal’, I don’t know what you could possibly call it.
Some people say that it’s not that big a deal – that it’s only a temporary limit… They miss the point: nobody must ever have the right to put a limit on the freedom of speech, the most basic of our rights without which none of the others are possible. If someone can put a ‘temporary limit’ on it, then someone else can put another ‘temporary limit’, and another, and another…and before we realize it, the ‘limit’ will be a permanent one….
Yes, these are just two ‘highly visible’ instances….but, there are too many to document is a simple blog.
John Perry Barlow maintained that the biggest threat to freedom of speech in the future will be from ‘corporate censorship’.
I think he is right.