Fighting Internet suppression, gov’t spying, ISP content-bias

China and the United States approach politics differently, but their teenagers share a favorite means of communication — text messaging. What these teens say to each other may matter only to them. But that they are able to communicate this easily, openly and even cheaply matters to us all.

Without the freedom to have these little conversations, a nation is not equipped to have the bigger ones. It is with the vigilance of a teen facing time without texting that we should take a day to focus not on the small phone screen or the bigger laptop screen, but the broader picture — the tremendous value of an open Internet.

OneWeb Day, Sept. 22, is the third anniversary of the “Earth Day” for Internet users. It’s a day to consider what business models, technical tools and governmental policies help the Internet — and what threats are lurking.

Three threats to Internet freedom are worth noting on OneWeb Day. The first is the temptation to filter Internet content for what most agree are good causes — curbing terrorism, child pornography, gambling, and copyright piracy. However, the Internet could die a death by a thousand cuts if Internet service providers (ISPs) must turn over customer records or cut their access whenever a government has a good reason.

That leads to the second threat — government spying. George Orwell’s vision of an all-seeing, government-controlled “telescreen” in every home and office is no longer fiction.

The size and scope of the U.S. government’s surveillance of electronic communications is largely unknown. Congress effectively granted a cloak of secrecy when it renewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with retroactive immunity for telecom carriers who turned over customer records. The move essentially blocks 40 lawsuits that would have shed light on this allegedly illegal activity.

Business models proposed by big ISPs designed to charge websites more for faster service, or to steer users to content based on business deals, are a third major threat. The Internet has historically been content-neutral, and net neutrality is what has made the Internet so great for innovation and communication. Sure, big ISPs might make a few million dollars more without net neutrality, but at what cost to innovation and online freedom?

We hope OneWebDay launches a serious discussion on common principles essential for Internet freedom. When policies impacting the Internet are considered, we need a consistent ethic so the Internet remains a tool for openness and freedom — not control and repression.

Washington

Biotech non-partisan

From James C. Greenwood, president and CEO, Biotechnology Industry Organization

(Regarding article, “Biotech industry not seeing much difference between McCain, Obama,” Sept. 8.) It’s clear to the Biotechnology Industry Organization that both presidential candidates place a high priority on reforming our nation’s healthcare system. BIO looks forward to working with whichever candidate wins the election in November, the new administration and the new Congress, to continue to expand access to healthcare and bring biotechnology’s promise to our nation and the world.

As American families can attest, health is not a partisan issue. Nor is biotechnology. In addition to discovering new therapies and treatments for some of the world’s most devastating diseases, biotechnology also encompasses advances in biofuels, increases in agriculture yields and improvements in manufacturing processes to make them — and our environment — cleaner.

Biotechnology helps sick patients live longer, healthier lives; helps farmers grow crops that can survive in drought and other adverse conditions; and helps our nation decrease its dependence on foreign oil.

Washington