What do a Russian blogger, American hacktivists, and CISPA have in common? They all demonstrate government crackdown on dissent and information.
Vladimir Putin's regime is criminally prosecuting lawyer, opposition leader, and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. According to The Washington Post Navalny's trial, which is set to begin today,
is widely considered a test of how harshly President Vladimir Putin intends to crack down on dissent.What WaPo left out of its story are the similar tests of how harshly the U.S. government is cracking down on dissent. Criminal prosecutions of hacktivists and whistleblowers are having an enormous chilling effect on dissent and free speech here in the U.S.
The U.S. should be careful about throwing stones at the Russian government for prosecuting Navalny when our own house is made of glass.
The U.S. government prosecuted civil liberties and internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz for downloading articles he was entitled to get for free. (Swartz's tragic death in March 2013 reverberated throughout the hacktivist community, many of whom blamed his death on the pending criminal charges).
The government has aggressively pursued information activist and journalist Barrett Brown, subjecting him to FBI raids and indicting him three times - piling on charges that could mean decades in prison. His crime: linking, not hacking, not leaking, to publicly-available documents on the internet.
AT&T hacker "Weev" (Andrew Auernheimer) was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison - not for "hacking" anything, but for publicizing the fact that AT&T had a gaping security hole on its website that left vulnerable customers' private information.
Anonymous member, Jeremy Hammond, is facing 30 years to life for allegedly hacking security company Stratfor, an outsourced U.S. domestic spying operation.
These so-called "hacktivists" are not perfect individuals, but their biggest crime, and the one they have in common, was threatening the surveillance state.
Congress is playing its part in the war on information: this week the House is poised to pass the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a bill that would provide companies unprecedented freedom to share customers' sensitive, private information with each other and the government.
Giving credit where it's due, the White House commendably threatened to veto CISPA citing privacy concerns. And, the crackdown on information is finally gaining more traction, and was vividly illustrated by documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald in his new film "War on Whistleblowers: The Free Press and the National Security State," which premiered in DC yesterday.
However, the First Amendment should make this country a shining example of internet freedom, and we have long way to go. The U.S. should be leading the charge on internet freedom and instead the U.S. is leading an unprecedented crackdown whistleblowers and hacktivists who expose information that the government would rather not see the light of day. The message is simple: "Dissenters STFU."