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ACLU Says Net Neutrality Necessary For Free Speech 283

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the thanks-for-listening dept.
eldavojohn writes "The ACLU has recently identified Network Neutrality a key free speech issue and said in a lengthy PDF report: 'Freedom of expression isn't worth much if the forums where people actually make use of it are not themselves free. And the Internet is without doubt the primary place where Americans exercise their right to free expression. It's a newspaper, an entertainment medium, a reference work, a therapist's office, a soapbox, a debating stand. It is the closest thing ever invented to a true "free market" of ideas.' The report then goes on to argue that ISPs have incentive and capability of interfering with internet traffic. And not only that but the argument that it is only 'theoretical' are bogus given they list ten high profile cases of it actually happening. If the ACLU can successfully argue that Net Neutrality is a First Amendment Issue then it might not matter what businesses (who fall on either side of the issue) want the government to do."
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ACLU Says Net Neutrality Necessary For Free Speech

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  • Nonsense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:30AM (#33960046)

    We'll all be perfectly free to say whatever we like...on whatever sites our ISP's let us access. And if you don't like what your ISP is doing, you can just switch to one of the hundreds of alternate broadband providers that we all have.

    Wow, I think I just sprained my sarcasm tendon.

  • Re:Nonsense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:46AM (#33960216) Homepage Journal

    As long as the back haul is neutral then people are free to start up community co-op ISPs. It's not provider neutrality that I see as most important but backbone neutrality. QoS is one thing but restricting what type of traffic or who the traffic comes from is ridiculous. All connections should permit all legal connections and come with proper management to permit continual usage of the link at an appropriate speed intended to provide the same transfer to all users who are attempting to use it, and to accurately divide the available bandwidth equally (or otherwise appropriately) between the customers who have paid for it.

    With that said, there is literally one choice in my county for internet access, AT&T. Everyone else here resells them. I do not count satellite which is unacceptable in a broad variety of ways. I don't necessarily trust AT&T to carry my packets to their eventual destination. Indeed, immediately after my local WISP was moved from an AT&T reseller to AT&T directly, we were placed on some seriously non-neutral segment where we had fast access to many sites (of course including AT&T, but ALSO including non-AT&T sites, meaning that it wasn't simply fast access to AT&T internal resources) but where we had essentially no access to many other sites including Slashdot and Alternet. After we [the users] complained to them en masse (reportedly) they complained up the chain and we were placed on the "proper" network, which does not [appear to] have this problem. So clearly some AT&T customers are already living on a non-neutral net...

  • by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:46AM (#33960226) Homepage

    The ACLU has defended a lot of doucebags in their time, but one can't argue against their impartiality; they generally fall on the side of rights, regardless of how loony the person or group they are representing. Gotta give them credit for that.

  • Not again. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:49AM (#33960268)
    Why do people confuse the first amendment's prohibition against the government limiting free expression with somehow mandating that private people and/or the companies they form being obliged to provide a platform for everything that everyone wants to say? The first amendment isn't about forcing a guy with a printing press to do what you say, it's about preventing the government from stopping you and the guy who owns the printing press from doing what you like on whatever terms you arrange between the two of you. Same thing goes with the guy who owns the DSL line you're using, or the WiFi hotspot and the network it's wired up to. And just like the printing press, if you don't like the terms of use, build your own or shop around.
  • Re:Not again. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Batmunk2000 (1878016) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:53AM (#33960324)

    Agreed. The First Amendment affirms your right to speak but not the right to demand a publicly-supplied soap box. On a side note, it's odd that all kinds of interest groups are pushing NN... Right Wing and Left Wing alike. The radicals realize NN can guarantee them an audience by law - not by earning it.

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow (319597) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:54AM (#33960332) Homepage

    Comcast slows all access to "ComCastSucks.com" to 1 byte per second, as well as all it's competitors websites, any newspaper who it doesn't agree with, and also refuses to share peer traffic with any game-console service / MMORPG except for the Xbox unless the user pays extra. What's the matter?! I didn't *BLOCK* anything!

    There's your problem right there. Being able to shape traffic (which is effectively a temporary denial, but on millisecond-scales) is the same as blocking it for a short period of time.

    The problem with net-biased (what's the opposite of net-neutral?) ISP's is not their ability to block things. It's their ability to make a service 100% unusable in practical terms even if they are 100% fine in theory. If only 1% of my TCP packets get to the destination, that's not technically "blocking" any particular website / protocol / service, but you try forming a reliable connection and downloading a webpage, or a file, or interacting with other users of the service.

    Imagine the net ran through a router with an iptables rule of:

    iptables -A INPUT -p icmp --icmp-type echo-request -m random --average 99 -j DROP

    but ONLY on the websites / protocols that the ISP chooses (and / or is being paid by).

  • Re:Nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tixxit (1107127) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:55AM (#33960364)
    Wasn't there a story not too long back about a community co-op ISP that was sued/shutdown by one of the big broadband providers for, essentially, providing broadband to their residents when aforementioned big-broadband-provider refused to provide the broadband themselves?
  • by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:55AM (#33960366) Homepage

    I don't want net neutrality to become a partisan issue

    It's a little late for that :(

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JeffSpudrinski (1310127) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:56AM (#33960386)

    There's two schools of thought here.

    1) Net neutrality is important to free speech because the ISPs will invariably abuse the rules (without breaking them, of course) laid out if they are allowed to slow down certain types of traffic. They will slow it to the point that it becomes unusable (file sharing, anyone?), or slow down access to competitor's sites (again to the point where they become unusble). The companaies will claim they won't, but history has proven otherwise.

    2) Net neutrality is only good if you're the one doing the file sharing or watching the streaming movie. The older folks simply trying to upload pictures of their grandkids or browse to HGTV's site, but it runs slow because the 14-year-old kid next door is sharing his entire 16 GB colletion of MP3's to the world on the same subnet. Is it fair to the ones who aren't sharing (and they don't have any real alternatives to go to)?

    That being said, I'm a huge fan of Netflix and I don't want my streaming movies throttled down. I lean more toward neutrality, but would hope that the worst abusers of bandwidth could still be corrected when needed.

    Just my $0.02.

    -JJS

  • Re:Nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:57AM (#33960392)

    Fortunately for the proponents of net neutrality, there's never been a case of a government using its regulatory power to curtail free speech. Only private corporations do that.

    Unfortunately for the shills and useful idiots there's plenty of cases where the government has used its regulatory power to protect free speech. Like the common-carrier laws which are part of the "network neutrality" we had for land-line telephones.

  • Re:Not again. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lluc (703772) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:00AM (#33960444)
    One could argue that in the case of the monopoly or near-monopoly that is broadband for most of the US, the government *is* limiting free expression unless they advocate net neutrality.
  • Re:Nonsense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:01AM (#33960458) Journal

    >>>It's not provider neutrality that I see as most important but backbone neutrality.

    Precisely.

    In the ideal world the Internet line would be just like the telephone line, where you can choose from dozens of companies for service. Also I'm curious what the ACLU means by "Freedom of expression isn't worth much if the forums where people actually make use of it are not themselves free." Forums, like slashdot, are privately owned. You DON'T have a right to free speech. You have a right to obey the rules of the forum sysop, even if he's a tyrant. It's his domain; his rules.

  • Re:Not again. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dredd13 (14750) <dredd@megacity.org> on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:03AM (#33960488) Homepage

    The answer to THAT is to end the franchise monopoly system, and allow real competition in the local last-mile marketplace. Free-markets for the win.

  • Re:Not again. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:03AM (#33960498)
    My grandad used to tell black people who came in his restaurant the same thing. Damned government has no right to force private businesses to observe people's "civil rights." The niggers are always free to go to another restaurant if they don't like it.
  • Re:Not again. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:04AM (#33960514)
    One could argue that in the case of the monopoly or near-monopoly that is broadband for most of the US, the government *is* limiting free expression unless they advocate net neutrality.

    Well, sure, one could argue that. But it would be a bad argument. The state of broadband provisioning is in constant flux, and is still in its relative infancy. It would be insane to upend the entire meaning of the most important amendment to the constitution just because it's temporarily expensive to string up a new network in some small towns. I don't think that most people grasp the enormity of Law Of Unintended Consequences when it comes to this topic.
  • Re:Nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Schadrach (1042952) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:08AM (#33960564)

    Speaking of common carriers, why not make it a choice on the part of the ISPs -- let them either accept common carrier status which requires them to be a "dumb pipe" as it were (no restrictions beyond basic QoS) but accordingly frees them from responsibility for what goes over the line, or let them elect to do all the nefarious filtering and such, at which point they are responsible and liable for everything that goes across their lines in both directions.

    I'm sorry MPAA, but my ISP is not a common carrier, so I assumed all data I was able to receive was legal and authorized. You need to sue them *too*. Speaking of which I just got a trojan from a browser exploit on a site they authorized. I need to take them to small claims court to make them fix my computer, since their specifically authorized content damaged it. =)

  • Re:Not again. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blackraven14250 (902843) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:31AM (#33960840)

    I'm fairly sure they can claim jurisdiction using the interstate commerce clause. Most ISPs aren't state-specific, and they're accessing a nationwide network.

    I don't have a choice of ISP. The vast majority of people who do have a choice have only two choices, usually Verizon/Comcast, AT&T/Cablevision or some other combination of gigantic, shitty companies. They can go fuck themselves if they want to restrict which sites are available through the pipe they provide; it's not their business to be doing so. I pay for X speed, give me X speed - that's pretty much the limit of their power IMO. Throttling Fox or NBC is shit that will not fly. This isn't cable TV, where there's all sorts of agreements between the providers and the network, and (originally was) limited bandwidth of X channels to broadcast in an area. This is the internet, built for anyone to send information anywhere at any time. Fuck you if you think Bing is a better search engine than Google because M$ paid you off, so you're giving better speeds to Bing.

  • Re:Nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rtb61 (674572) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:31AM (#33960842) Homepage

    You do have the choice of thousands if not millions of sites to express your opinion and it has be proven time and time again when sites heavily censor posting to match their marketing and business goals participation dies rapidly and often permanently.

    The internet however always hits numerous choke points starting at possible reasonably priced kerb connections to main backbone trunks and on global issues undersea cables.

    Then there is slowing opposition response for day and, weeks while the for profit propaganda continues.

    No add random regular disconnects and slow downs to drive away users with frustration and even those some tactics for individuals to effectively silence them. Years ago this was too hard to do manually on a large scale but with computers you can silence a population of hundreds of millions automatically, say or write the wrong word and your connection mysteriously temporarily dies, whether it be a local, national or international connection.

    So rules are created, laws are legislated to ensure equal access on critical infrastructure, to imprison tyrants not glorify them. So landlord can't extort unreasonable and humiliating demands upon the basis of being the owner and a tyrant and being immediately able to evict you from his property, so the power company can't disconnect you from the grid in the middle of winter because they didn't like your public complaint, so water company can't cut of your mains because they thought it would be fun to do so.

    So basically bugger the tyrants, we together make the rules if you don't want to operate within the rules we define for net neutrality then you are not fit for the business, so basically you and your money can get lost and find another type of business to be a little hitler in.

  • Re:Not again. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by still cynical (17020) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:31AM (#33960846) Homepage

    Why do people confuse the first amendment's prohibition against the government limiting free expression with somehow mandating that private people and/or the companies they form being obliged to provide a platform for everything that everyone wants to say? The first amendment isn't about forcing a guy with a printing press to do what you say, it's about preventing the government from stopping you and the guy who owns the printing press from doing what you like on whatever terms you arrange between the two of you. Same thing goes with the guy who owns the DSL line you're using, or the WiFi hotspot and the network it's wired up to. And just like the printing press, if you don't like the terms of use, build your own or shop around.

    Why? Because the Internet was created by "the government", is regulated by "the government", and subsidized by "the government". The lines that carry Internet traffic are run on public ("government"-owned) land using right of ways granted by "the government". Wireless carriers are granted licenses to use public airwaves, and must provide a public service to do so (not just rake in money). At the local level, most of the carriers are monopolies granted by "the government". These monopolies are free from having to worry about competition because "the government" has agreed to lock out anyone else from access to these same right-of-ways.

    THAT'S why it's a First Amendment issue. You want to be free of government rules? Get off the government tit. The government has provided a source of huge income to these companies. If they don't like "the terms of use" associated with being a government-subsidized monopoly, they are free to "build their own" Internet and run the lines over their own land. The wireless carriers can just "build their own" airwaves, I guess.

  • Re:Not again. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by IDarkISwordI (811835) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:36AM (#33960908)

    What's it like to read a compelling hypocrisy claim only to be able to apply a literal meaning to this situation rather than an analogous intent?

    It's clear that corporations get a pass an are able to do whatever they want in this country with little consequence. Most in fact build into their budgets, money they expect to have to pay out in fines for violating regulations they don't want to observe. These fines are the equivalent to a late movie fine or a late book for these companies leaving them basically to do what they wish, the country be damned.

    It is entirely obvious this is a civil rights issue. Not one of race or gender or age, but one of every persons right to expression without oppression from the corporatations obsessetion to controlling this country.

  • Re:Nonsense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by internewt (640704) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:44AM (#33960990) Journal

    Forums, like slashdot, are privately owned. You DON'T have a right to free speech. You have a right to obey the rules of the forum sysop, even if he's a tyrant. It's his domain; his rules.

    Governments have massive power over the people, and so many states around the world have come to the conclusion that making the government have to tolerate what people have to say is best for everyone. Well, except the people running the government, but that's kinda the point - to reign in the power they wield.

    The most powerful entities in society come and go over time, and this can be seen through the buildings that get built. The most powerful entity in a society tends to build the biggest buildings, to show of their power, assert dominance, whatever. These days corporations build most of the biggest buildings (skyscrapers), but not so long back governments the builders of the biggest places. Further back in history, and huge churches and cathedrals were being built, and during points of history when royal families were at the top, palaces and castles were the biggest buildings around.

    My point is that any powerful groups are a threat to the liberty of an individual, and we are living in a time when corporations are gaining more and more power everyday. Yes, governments may still be more powerful in some ways, but that doesn't cancel out or negate the power corporations have, and so corporations should have to allow some things they may not like for the same reasons that the government has to allow things it may not like.

  • Re:Not again. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Batmunk2000 (1878016) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:56AM (#33961120)

    Well put. "Rights" does not mean other people are slaves to your desires and wishes. It is an abused concept.

  • Re:Not again. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:02AM (#33961192) Journal

    Did you Grandad also take their money THEN refuse them service?

    Because thats what ISP's are doing.

  • Re:Nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv,vadiv&neverbox,com> on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:20AM (#33961428) Homepage

    Yeah, ISPs want to have it both ways. I don't see why they're able to get away with that.

    Are they a telephone company, or are they a newspaper? Pick one. Don't get to be both.

  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @12:34PM (#33962412) Journal
    You're off in your understanding of net neutrality. Neutrality in a nutshell means "all packets are created equal". Neutrality is being violated if the ISP sees that you are streaming video and throttles that. Neutrality is not being violated if the ISP has a policy to throttle your connection if you exceed 2GB in 24 hours (or whatever content-neutral usage policy). ISPs love to conflate neutrality and "breaking the internets" as a scare tactic- they really have nothing to do with each other.

    My internet connection here at school determines my bandwidth based on my data usage in the last 36 hours, with 3 tiers (unlimited, 512k, 128k). I would be perfectly happy to sign up for a similar plan through an ISP if it is reasonably priced and reliable. We can have net neutrality, reasonable usage plans and reliable connections without unreasonable strain on capacity- all while ISPs earn a profit- but ISPs are happier with their secure monopolies and will never change until the government tells them to or breaks the monopoly.
  • Re:Nonsense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @01:39PM (#33963330) Homepage Journal

    McCain-Feingold

    Money is not speech. If it were, the rich would have more right to speech than the poor. We are supposed to be founded on the proposition that all men are created equal, but some men are created rich and most are not. Being rich buys you privilege, but it doesn't buy you rights that others lack.

    Fairness Doctrine

    Again, can I get a TV station? No, there are no open frequencies left. Again, this is not an infringement of free speech rights, just an inftringement of a monied class privilege. These are not free speech issues. The "speech zones" during the last decade are, though, and these "free speech" zones [wikipedia.org] are worrisome. "The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed, with various degrees of success and failure, a number of lawsuits on the issue."

    Sorry, buddy, take your wealth and shove it, I'm on the ACLU's side here. Your money isn't speech, and if you have to pay for speech, it isn't free speech.

  • Re:Nonsense (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @06:57PM (#33967756)

    My point was that the ACLU only defends free speech when it is speech with which they agree.

    The ACLU has defended the free speech rights of Nazis and other far-right extremists who don't exactly share their liberal perspective.

    Fortunately for my argument, there are also times when the ACLU actively *opposes* free speech. One such case that comes quickly to mind is the ACLU's support of the "moving buffer zones" around abortion clinics.

    Freedom of speech doesn't mean you can do anything anywhere. Let the anti-abortion protesters picket and say whatever they want, but allowing them to walk right up to the door and badger women going in is harassment, plain and simple.

    Should a vegan hippie be allowed to stand in front of a McDonalds and scream bloody murder at every customer going in, and shove pamphlets and photos of dead and dying cows in their face? I don't think so.

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