Thursday, January 26, 2012

SOPA, governments, and freedom of the internet

In the little spare time I have had the last couple weeks, I have been trying to form an educated opinion regarding the new SOPA and PIP (Protect IP) laws that the USA is trying to pass to regulate the internet and protect domestic copyright and piracy laws.

Probably the opinion I most reflect so far is that of this open letter from technology founders in the USA to Congress...

I have a unique situation in regards to these laws in that I am in both technology and the "music" industries. That means...I am for any legitimate expansion and use of technology without false limitations or freedoms curbed by any government, including my own...yet at the same time I am for reasonable protection of the ownership of my creativity...whether that be music, writing or image arts.

Admittedly, we live in an age of competition by imitation. The rules and regulations MUST continue to evolve to take into consideration all aspects of irreversible globalization and new technologies that make copying and duplication a very simple process. Yet, I think our simplistic and archaic "leaders" in Congress understand very little about the laws and verbiage they are forcing through Congress...and trying to force upon the rest of the world. Long gone are the days of "book burnings" or "bannings" as an exercise of executive privilege. Long gone are the days when huge companies and institutions can DICTATE laws...and submission to those the global masses. This is just unrealistic in this day and age without annihilation of huge populations in the world. Do we really have the option of "nuking" or invading China and other such countries who have made huge industries of piracy and duplication of original and patented processes or inventions? I don`t think so. So, what are our real options?

While technology has created some of this problem, therein also lies much of the solution. There are many ways to digitally place your "ownership" on printed or digital materials to establish legitimacy. We need to continue the development of these technologies that can track content or programs that are protected...and at the same time safeguard such materials or processes in common sense ways. One small example might be written, digital content. Even emails. There are plenty of encryption and secure programs out there to retain privacy of written materials...yet very few people who publish such copyrighted or private content use the most basic of tools. There are also many ways to treat music and video files so they cannot be easily copied or distributed unauthorized. Yet, many producers don`t use some of these basic tools already out there. Believe me, as long as you continue to lay "gold coins" out in the street, street people will continue to pocket them and disappear.

The other point is that any government must work UNDER THE LAW OF DUE PROCESS to enforce laws that are already on the books. At this point I haven't seen or understood anything of copyrights and privacy laws that are not covered already WITHOUT these new, overstepping laws. Todays governments, including the USA, seem bent on dictatorial, tyrannous approaches to enforcing laws that have not even been officially passed or printed yet! Based on the first pass reading of SOPA, I see many items there that appear unconstitutional or without due process of law. To me this is another version of a "Patriot Act" that gives blind power and permission of government to act against their own citizens without due process or interpretation of law...which to me is very evidently unconstitutional.

I don`t know the whole story behind last weeks arrest and crackdown on MegaUpload in New Zealand...but from the outside looking in it is scary to me to see seizures of properties and arrests of persons without some judicial course of action. And when countries, such as in this case New Zealand and Hong Kong, immediately capitulate to a USA federal court order...against people who are not even USA citizens, it gives rise to the question of what IS the definition of due process...and is this a huge case of "governments uniting against the people"?

It would appear from this general story being covered on Wikipedia that this smells of complete and tyrannical flexing of governmental muscles...on a global scale...against large global businesses and their leaders who have "gotten too big and successful". It also calls into question the rights of the MILLIONS of customers using these services who have lost money paid to this company without any notice or obligation to make good a return of those people`s money. It seems governments are only interested in THEIR tax revenue (in this case lost due to offshore positioning) versus protecting the funds of millions of their citizens who rightly or wrongly paid for these services. If the government had a court order for this company to return revenue to their unknowing customers...with due process and notice to "the people"...then these actions might be less suspect. In this case...who or what institution gets all the millions in "spoils" that have been taken away by these combined government forces?

Now, I´m quite sure that many of us would have no love or respect for the founder of this company. Apparently he was an arrogant ******* who had little to no respect for copyright laws and was being a better distributor of Hollywood movies than Hollywood itself. I don`t know enough about this case or the laws around it to make a determination of his innocence or guilt. What concerns me is the hybris and aggression shown by police forces of an international scale against this guys properties and other third persons. Unfortunately most people in the world take medias and governments spin on such stories as the "truth". Yet, I would suggest that most of us are not qualified to make such a call on these types of cases...but any liberty minded person must wonder what kind of legal process was behind this statist actions. Sure, this company will have their day in court somewhere...but meanwhile it appears they have been deemed guilty until proven innocent...which to me is the reverse of what our democratic liberties are all about. And I once again have to ask...what juridiction does the USA have over foreign individuals in foreign countries? Are we paying for access and steam rolling over other countries...using taxpayer money and military threats? Who knows...but it surely seems odd.

Unfortunately, we have seen these types of actions on part of the USA government way too often in the past decade. The Patriot Act continues to be in force and in my opinion circumvents the established laws of our constitution and excessive powers when it comes to individual rights and due process. In addition to the Patriot Act, in 2006 the Bush administration surreptitiously passed a little understood law called the "Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act" wherein while the feds knew they could not outlaw completely online "gaming", they apparently believed they had the constitutional right to limit Americans from using their money or transferring their money to businesses for this purpose. No matter how one feels about gambling...or what they understand for that matter about Sports Betting or playing "Poker" as a game of skill...there are still many lawsuits and actions against these usurpative laws that call into question the governments authority in limiting a citizens rights to how and where one wants to use their money. While many probably think these actions were based on some "moral highground" of our legislature to protect the poor losers who don`t know how to control their money...I am quite sure that as soon as the USA determines HOW they can legalize, tax and take out the international COMPETITION for online gaming and will once again be legal at the federal level to play online...with real money. Just watch what happens...and then tell me what MORALITY this action was based on.

These are all huge subjects, but for now I try to find the underpinning, macro philosophy and opinion upon which to base my reaction(s) to SOPA and other laws in the USA. The USA, nor any other country for that matter, does not own or control the "Internet". This is now something of GLOBAL domain...and to that end the USA also has to play by international laws and regulations. I believe there are already plenty of international laws "on the books" related to protection of copyrights, fraud, piracy, etc. The USA cannot effectively and arbitrarily pass rules and regulations on the whole world related to this medium. Impossible to enforce and unrealistic to expect international cooperation on all fronts.

The best approach I think is for all global economies of scale to unite on international laws and long as those laws and regulations do not overstep basic rights of individual sovereignty and access to information on an equal basis. Along those lines, I think the international community must FIGHT to protect equal access to information within all regimes...repressive or not. I also think economic sanctions are difficult to enforce, and usually only punish the poor, powerless masses instead of the governments or regimes they are designed to punish. There will need to be new and better ways to get international cooperation to lean on dictatorships and isolated regimes.

Global competition...and use of the now a race for effective use of the "information highway". A global body over the internet should be effectively established to fight security issues and go after virus producers. Instead of trying to limit online commerce...including gaming on line...the USA should instead compete to have the best and most secure systems for allowing its citizens the liberty to play any games...even for their own risk and responsibility. Most people do not need government to determine their financial limitations...and those who do will eventually end up broke or in rehab somewhere whether it is legal or not...but the rest of us should not be limited based on the minority`s weakness of character...or lack of sanity.

I wish someone was paying me to study and digest all that is happening in the online legal space so I could devote more time to it. This is obviously just a laymen`s view on what is happening. Yet, I think it is legitimate to say that there is too much "Shenanigans" going on with governments and the internet. In general I will rebel against any law or position that my or any other global government establishes that limits freedom of access of the internet...for legitimate content or financial transactions. No one government is big enough, or knowledgeable enough, to play that role for the rest of the world. Those regimes or governments that attempt to do so will find it backfiring on their country`s economy, culture and productivity. We should not allow any government, even the USA, to attempt those kinds of controls.

My current position is I believe we have plenty of laws to defend copyright and piracy laws. We just need to enforce them...WITH DUE PROCESS...and not make it EASY for people to steal from us. That is the true "American way".

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Comparing two Panama Cities

The easiest way I have to keep perspective on my home country versus my adopted to track the news on Google. Google has a great "news alert" system, and for a couple years now I have an ongoing news "alert" for "Panama City". Of course, what is interesting is that half of the news coming in is related to Panama City, Panama...and the other half is about Panama City, FLORIDA. Since I often get asked by foreigners how life in Panama compares to the USA...I often have a fresh perspective on this just by following Google news on the two cities.

As per today's alert summary highlighted in the image above, life seems to be challenging on both sides of the Gulf that divides them. I visited Panama City, Florida decades ago...and from my recollections, I would suggest there are many similarities. Beaches, warm weather most of the year, and broad distinctions between the "haves" and the "have nots". Most people are more comfortable "suffering" or "playing" in sunny, warm climates. That`s why Florida grew so rapidly out of the Everglades "swamps"...and that is why we see such significant development going on the isthmus that is Panama. The poor AND the rich continue to migrate to these types of cities.

Part of the challenge of understanding life in either place is handling the tension and conflicts between rich and poor. Both Panama Cities have this complexity. Both have slums...and both have high end real estate zones. Both have reasonably high crime rates. When I read these "Nationmaster" crime stats...I find that in most categories Panama is relatively safer than the United States. The main areas Panama "wins" in higher crime categories are in percentage of "foreign detainees", and the amount of prison overcrowding. The USA is much more efficient in building prisons and putting its citizens there than Panama is. If you have to go to prison, Florida is probably a better location. Hopefully you nor I will ever have to deal with that sordid thought.

Back on the city seems to me that for its relative size in population (36,649 in Panama City, Florida, vs 880,691 for Panama City, Panama in 2009), Panama City, Fl has a lot of crime for its size. Its pretty hard to find reliable data in Panama and elsewhere for these kinds of statistics...and I have never lived in Panama City, Florida...but from my Google news perception, there sure seems to be a lot of crime in the Florida location even though Panama is obviously a much poorer, less educated population.

Then do we adequately judge "poorer" and "less-educated"? It seems to me that with all the billions spent on the USA social structure and education programs, the USA SHOULD be much further ahead than Panama economically and productively...yet I think the unemployment rates along with the crime rates are significantly higher in Panama City USA. That in itself is a crime to me...based upon the money spent.

Of course, who is to blame for these dreadful statistics? Do we blame the government for inadequate education or lack of social safety nets based on the amount of tax money they consume? Do we blame all the churches and non-profits who pay no taxes yet shovel in billions of dollars every year for such causes that never get resolved? Or, should we blame all citizens at large for not "taking care of their own"?

In this scenario, I think both the USA and Panama have the same problems. The governments tax too much from everyone for distribution back to the "entitled" and people "in power"...while the general citizenry waits for governments and institutions to cover their personal responsibilities or needs within their own families. There is some obvious truth to the fact that the poor in the world have more babies and contribute to the population boom more than the rich. Sure, part of that is that 70% of the world lives in poverty...but the other reality is that poorer working class families tend to have many more children than prosperous families. This in turn demands that society make more room for the growing number of under educated, under financed members of society. Who pays for all that? We ALL do!

The "dance" between governments and social programs that never adequately or evenly distribute what they collect is a never ending one. I don`t see any history of Socialism or Communism being a successful model of governing, economic planning or even distribution of a country`s wealth. Of course, Democracy and Capitalism has very few pure examples of success in this either. I would argue that every attempt at Democracy or Capitalism at some point gets diluted by the greed of a FEW producers...who then try and turn the rest of their society into some form of Socialism or Communal-ism...that THEY control. As a friend of mine always says about these things..."smoke and mirrors...smoke and mirrors".

As the world continues in the irreversible process of "globalization" will be interesting to watch these two "Panama Cities" as they continue to evolve and compete for growth and maturity in their unique regional and cultural evolutions...and to see in the end which citizens will end up with the best quality of life. Of course, one must define "quality of life" to adequately compare...and we will leave that for another discussion. Yet, I would suggest that overall...I see more happiness and relative tranquility in Panama than I see in the USA these days. Part of the reason for that is most Americans are not very well acquainted with real poverty or third world living...though they are quickly moving that direction. And most Panamanians...well, they currently have the most freedom and independence that they have ever experienced in their history. The average Panamanian is quite experienced at living in relative poverty and contented with the basic provisions that life (or powers that be) affords them. To that end, Americans in Panama City, Florida may have lots to learn from Panamanians in Panama City, Panama. Hopefully the growing economic system in Panama will not replicate some of the most drastic mistakes of the USA...those being: run-away credit, runaway materialism, and a self destructing culture fighting between conservative and liberal, religious and non-religious, between various races...and ultimately the main divide between rich and poor.