(By: Daniel Gutiérrez)
In the past weeks, great strides have been made in both the United States and Mexico towards controlling access to the Internet. The fact that they occur while Trans-Pacific Partnership meetings has stalled shows that international agreements are hardly necessary to enact authoritarian measures. However, a new horizon, particularly those imagined by Internet advocacy groups, may point towards more lasting protections and expansions of human rights.
In late March, a bill that came to be infamously known as Ley Telecom was proposed at the Mexican legislature and was supported by Enrique Peña Nieto. It should come as no surprise that the government attempted to sell the bill as a balance between freedoms and security interests. The government promised to break telecommunication monopolies that were created in the 1990’s in the midst of expansions of the neoliberal market.
But immediately organizations like Libre Internet Para Todos (Free Internet for Everyone) began to scream out about the fine print. The proposed law was riddled with vague measures that ruled in favor of the government with little or no provision towards transparency or oversight. Tucked within the 250+ page document are provisions like Article 197 and Article 145 that leave measures purposely shady and raise an eyebrow due to lack of definition or oversight. Article 197 is blatantly anti-democratic and conjures Orwellian images. In subsections six and seven of the article, it allows the government to permanently (subsection six) or temporarily(subsection seven) suspend access to the Internet, whereas the reasons for such a blocking remain unclear.
Article 145 is problematic for various reasons. Under the subsection entitled “privacy” it allowed Internet providers to block access to certain pages if they promote things which fall outside of the law, without any further clarification. The subsection entitled “Free Election” allowed Internet users to see anything within the legal mark. This immediately begs the questions,“who defines legal?” Article 146 (appearing almost as a subsection to 145 and without any subsections of its own) opens up the door to unequal access, doing away with any notion of net neutrality. It claims that “the concessionaires and the authorized that grant the service of access to Internet will be allowed to make offers according to the necessities of segments of the market and clients, differentiating between levels of capacity, speed, and quality.”
Luís Fernando García, attorney of the Red de la Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (Network for the Defense of Digital Rights), pointed out that Article 146 is strikingly similar to the new proposal by the Federal Communications Commission of the United States. Furthermore, Fernando García pointed out//highlights?! (repeated) that decisions made in the United States regarding net neutrality may (well) influence legislature in Mexico.
Privatizing Speed Ways in the American Internet
While the Mexican government attempts to pull the rug from under its citizens’ feet, the Federal Communications Commission approved a proposal that will end net neutrality in the United States. According to the ruling by the FCC, Internet providers will be able to charge companies like Amazon, Google, or Netflix in exchange for faster and better service. If such a proposal becomes law, the FCC will have effectively created toll-roads in the Internet, leaving independent bloggers in the dust. Under such a premise, serious questions have to be raised. Particularly what is the relation between a “fast-lane” and a “slow-lane” and what qualifies each? Aside from creating an unequal and partitioned Internet, such a measure would create incentives for Internet providers to develop “fast-lanes” at higher speeds and qualities for “haves” without leaving any incentive to advance development of the Internet overall for the “have-nots.”
Such uneven development would also create an environment for users to go directly towards outlets that have quicker and better service. If someone would want to access a video that is not provided by big media firms, it would push potential viewers away due to the lag experienced in comparison to the fast lanes. Such a measure would thus effectively turn away potential viewers. The infrastructure for such a control is already existent in the US, where Internet providers are quite often geographically monopolistic. Hence, the consumers are forced to take a specific provider that covers their hometown. If this provider decides to offer youtube a faster lane than the local leftvision.org, then leftvision is effectively not accessible for the whole city or region.
Making a Horizon
In Mexico, Internet freedom advocacy groups have done much to attempt to inform and rally the public. Throughout the country, on April 10th, numerous organizations took to the streets in popular protest. In Mexico City in particular, Red de la Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, Libre Internet Para Todos, ex-members of #YoSoy132, colectivo #posmesalto, and even the Sindicato Mexicano de Electrecistas (SME, Union of Mexican Electricians) united and marched from Televisa headquarters to the senate building. On April 22, hundreds across the country again protested the proposed law.
Despite movement on the ground, those that participated were unable to create broad based support. Though the proposed law has been lightly amended since the above protest and visibility was accomplished, Internet rights organizations must move towards engaging the working poor. One of the possible reasons that popular support in the form of protest was so little is that only three-in-ten households in Mexico have access to the Internet while only 38% of the population signs on. Hence, for many Mexicans, these proposals do not directly affect them, making popular support difficult to attain.
As we can see in the United States, the problem of mobilization goes beyond pure numbers of private computers or access to the Internet. Unlike Mexico, protests that occurred on the day the FCC approved the proposal, were organized by members of MoveOn.org, CREDO, and Free Press. These groups were unable to engage working class institutions or organizations. And this part of a wider problem of how NGOs or non-profits are often times unable to bring about change. INCITE! has criticized NGO’s for reproducing the same top-down structures that allow the government to engage these organizations rather than popular movements themselves. Groups like Libre Internet Para Todos begin to break the reactionary polarity movements have fallen into. Rather than simply falling into a trap of resisting mounting pressure, LIPT further calls for free internet access as a fundamental human right. And perhaps with this access, more people, especially the working class, can begin to engage a wider possibility beyond the immediate and present danger. Still, they should go beyond this and begin to engage the working poor in Mexico as well as in the United States by illustrating the potential danger of the law for society as a whole. If we look at the current history, from the Arab Spring to Turkey to Edward Snowden or WikiLeaks, it becomes very visible that a monopoly of information in the hand of governments and media corporations does not lead to an informed and critical society. But an uninformed society cannot develop strategies against oppression – and this does not just count for internet users. A first example for such an approach is the engagement of movements like the SME but this outreach has to become stronger.
In this video Julian Assange further spoke of the problem that many people simply do not know how the internet functions or why Internet privacy is crucial to both building a democracy and combating authoritarianism. In order to begin building popular support, popular engagement and education must become a principle towards wider movement building. If not, the future of the Internet will fall in the hands of small organizations. As Andy Müller-Maguhn, a German hacktivist and member of the Chaos Computer Club, said in the above linked interview, the proposed measures in the United States and in Mexico are ultimately about slowing social movements in order to create control.
“It’s about slowing down a process in order to better control them. That’s the core of intelligence work. To slow down a process by taking the ability of people to understand it, and by labeling it secret you limit the amount of people that have the details and can thus affect the process.” This, in turn “affects the ability [of people not in government] to define reality.” Following the revolutions and revolts around the world since 2010-2011, its no wonder that controlling the Internet has become paramount around for governments and corporations alike.