Supporters of increased anti-piracy efforts, including the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, are the "greatest threat" to Internet freedom in the United States, a former Federal Trade Commission official said on Tuesday.
Two years after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out U.S. support for global Internet freedom, efforts to crack down on online theft, increase surveillance, or block protests have proved those words to be empty promises, said Christopher Soghoian, a research fellow at George Soros' Open Society Foundations and a former technologist at the FTC's Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.
"It's really time to stop quoting Hillary Clinton's speech on Internet freedom," he said at a Media Access Project forum on Internet freedom. "The last two years have shown those were hollow, shallow words."
While the copyright lobby is pushing for stricter Internet piracy laws, thousands of Internet companies have mobilized to protest proposed anti-piracy bills, which were eventually abandoned.
Soghoian called such proposals "truly heinous" and said they undermine the free flow of information online. "There are many bad things on the horizon and Hollywood is pushing them," he said. "In an attempt to protect their own failing and sinking business model, they are willing to take the Internet down with them."
Supporters of the House's Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate's Protect IP Act said online theft of intellectual property is out of control and is hurting the economy as a whole. Fears of censorship and control are overblown by Internet companies that profit off the flow of illegal content, supporters like the Motion Picture Association of America have said.
But not all threats to global Internet freedom are homegrown.
While the gap between countries with relatively free Internet access and those that censor and control the Web has increased in recent years, Google's Bob Boorstin said he will be watching countries that haven't fully gone one way or another. "Are they going to go the right way? Or the wrong way and try to clamp down on information," he said.