MANILA, Philippines - For a good number of Internet denizens, January 18 in the US is supposed to be Internet Freedom Day.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) terms this year's celebration as one to remember previous years' fights against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the US. It's also being held to remember Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who fought for the rights of Internet users in a number of ways.
While the date may not have much significance for Filipinos yet, it may be important to remember January 18 as Internet Freedom Day for the Philippines simply because we need a day to remember how the Internet, and the pursuit of Internet freedom, goes beyond our immediate spheres.
On Philippine shores
In the Philippine context, one major point of interest when it comes to Internet freedom is the way legislation is being done to protect people's interests, both in terms of protecting intellectual property and stopping libelous or hateful statements from becoming commonplace online.
On the one hand, there is the Cybercrime Law, RA 10175, which some have described as having certain deficiencies currently being brought up in argumentation. It also has a dubious backstory, one of online bullying of a senator or hearty dissent against his views, depending on whom you ask. The deficiencies and the hazy backstory cloud the perception of the law's effectiveness and intent.
The current alternative is something called the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom (MCPIF), otherwise known as Senate Bill 3327. This was filed by Sen Miriam Defensor-Santiago in November 2012 and is a more citizen-friendly bill that hopes to be passed in place of the Cybercrime Law.
What's notable about the MCPIF is that it makes provisions that specifically address deficiencies in RA 10175, such as protecting the right for the freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
The existence of the two bills, however, puts into stark focus the need to recognize the Internet as something that exceeds Philippine shores. Having a law to protect people in the Philippines from bad Internet use is admirable, but if there is no way to enforce these protections against ill-meaning folks outside the Philippines, it ends up being ineffective in a realistic context.
On American soil
In the US, Internet activist Aaron Swartz recently committed suicide.
Swartz was notable to the technologically inclined for developing the Rich Site Summary (RSS) web feed format, the co-founding of social news website Reddit, and the furthering of Internet freedom through co-founding Demand Progress, an organization focused on maintaining Internet freedoms.
He was also known to be suffering from depression. While none of us may know exactly what he was thinking, we imagine that the stresses of life coupled with the stresses of litigation for civil disobedience may have contributed to his distress.
The Internet as a universe
The Internet, while itself a construct comprised of physically-existing computers, servers, cables, and energy, is also a nebulous universe unto itself.
The Internet is made of data, stored in the ether, represented by abstractions we call numbers and, while virtual, still has effects in the physical world. Whether we use it for entertainment, for learning, for argumentation, or for enlightenment, what is true is the nature of this second universe comprised of data to affect our personal universes in ways we never thought possible.
One of the similarities between the Philippine situation and the American situation is the way the government responds to the intangible nature of the Internet.
The governments of the Philippines and the US are on a quest to preserve the integrity of their respective nations by controlling something that extends beyond borders into every connected computer and device that can send and receive data. Other countries are also trying to do the same, as evidenced by the attempt to sign a telecommunications treaty that would create a precedent for the potential limiting of freedom online in specific contexts.
Swartz fought for the freedom and openness of information on the Internet, even going as far as doing things some have argued are illegal to impart the importance of the necessity for the Internet and the information it provides to be freely available around the world.
His family argues that the way litigation against him proceeded may have added to the stressors that led him to commit suicide, which imparts the seriousness of one person's ability to destabilize the status quo, start change, and drive existing systems into fearful retaliation.
Beyond immediate spheres
Rappler has spoken against the Cybercrime Law in the Philippines, and it has also opened up a discussion on the hopeful dream of a world with Internet freedom, as well as the scary thought of a world that lacks those same freedoms.
The idea of Internet freedom is admirable and, extending it outward from a single point, is also something every person can contribute to. The idea of information as both something liberating and something that must remain free extends beyond immediate spheres: beyond one's self, beyond one's borders, and into the world as a whole.
Information, used wisely and use well, is transformative. The most powerful transformations of all, whether they be for personal fulfillment, nation-building, or unification, requires that information and the Internet as a means of getting that information across, remain unfettered.
That, I think, is the dream that many Internet denizens think about. At the very least, I think that the means of changing existing paradigms to make better futures for everyone is something that many people, Aaron Swartz included, feel is something worth having in the world. - Rappler.com