There's some new trouble at 'Mill today as we see a few big internet sites blink off the air. Wikipedia and Flickr spring to mind, with one gone dark and the other showing selectively darkened photographs. Google is running a campaign notice on its home page.
The reason is driven from new US Bills being shunted through the American system to try to protect Intellectual Property. It's supposed to be about protecting IP that is being systematically stolen, for example by cloning sites with commercial agendas. Anti piracy, which most of us would support.
Instead, in its current form, it is probably applying brakes to sensible progress and sharing of ideas and innovation. The most obvious example is the impact on social computing, the likes of facebook, twitter, blogger, flickr, wiki and so on. More controls, more monitoring and more security. Don't misunderstand that I want to have control over my personal data and access, but I don't want to prevent the evolution of new good ideas from the simple applications that mashup transport timetables or location of spare Boris-bikes in London through to the big new ways of presenting information and media online. Then there's the music applications that let people co-operate on a single work from multiple countries. Or the various ways that people can now self publish.
At one level there's the important argument about the price of freedom being eternal vigilance. The challenge is to not use such blunt instrument that it kills the spark that creates the initiatives in the first place.
And to not set up systems that ultimately get circumvented by the very organisations being targeted. A case in point is a sports streaming site which was run from a US-based .com domain. It was seized by America's Homeland Security and nowadays displays three very impressive looking badges from the Department of Justice, National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Centre and Homeland Security Investigation Special Agent.
The thing is, the site has then sidestepped the blockade in a couple of ways. One, it re-routes its operation from Spain (and a few other countries as well), secondly, it has created a variation of its name in the US market.
Now I'm not directly judging this site, but I am saying that if some sort of blanket restrictions are applied to try to stop the obvious rogues, there is a risk that the more genuinely creative and sharing processes will get caught up in it all as well.
I'm not sure how old the Internet is, but I can still remember the first time I used FTP based access, via a modem, to hook onto someone in Australia's files, as part of a sharing experiment. It was before Microsoft had an IP stack and we used to patch in something called Netmanage to get connectivity with those modems that made the weird shooshing noises when they connected.
In technology terms, it wasn't that long ago, and then, as Mosaic and Netscape evolved we started to talk about organisations using web addresses instead of street names. At the time it seemed far fetched, but of course nowadays its passé.
The innovation hasn't stopped, but any new legislation needs to be carefully thought through so that it isn't just a barrier and some kind of attempt to protect the status quo. The recent Booz Allen report on the Internet suggests it represents 3.4% of world GDP and 21% of GDP growth in mature countries over the last 5 years.
Its not about gimmicks for their own sake, but experience suggests that there's a lot more new stuff around the corner and we must be careful not to stifle its ability to surface.