Going offline to defend privacy and freedom online

On January 18 2011, Wikipedia will voluntarily shut its website down for twelve hours, in protest at two pieces of legislation being considered in the US – SOPA and PIPA. Big Brother Watch will be doing the same.

Yes, it may appear a futile gesture. But we believe this is too important an issue to carry on as normal. Like many UK websites, several of our online services are run via the United States. As a result, our website falls under US law. It is grossly naive to think that legislation currently being considered in the US, which in the opinion of many constitutes a fundamental attack on freedom online, would not impact on businesses and individuals in the UK.

As the White House’s response to the massive public outcry against the proposals says, “we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” In their current form, the laws being considered in the US undoubtedly fall foul of each of those criteria.

Big Brother Watch was established to defend our privacy and protect our civil liberties. The only way these proposals will work is if the state monitors the personal activity of every person online. We have already seen in recent weeks India introducing laws to record every person using a cyber cafe, for example. The great firewall of China – and the associated state surveillance apparatus – were created to control what people do online, and we will oppose any measure to introduce such a system in Britain.

It is clear that many of the arguments being made in the US for greater regulation of the internet are also going to be made in the UK this year. This is the first act of protest against any attempt by the UK Government to take control of what British people can see online or introduce any intrusive monitoring of our online activity.

We believe that those breaking the law should be pursued, to the full extent of the law. Far more needs to be done to pursue criminals, fraudsters and thieves online. We also believe that in a free society, you are innocent until proven – beyond reasonable doubt – to be guilty, and that guilt must be established with a judicial process. Furthermore, we believe freedom of expression is not in the gift of bureaucrats. It is a fundamental part of a democracy.

For these reasons, we will be joining the defence of free speech and privacy online and taking ourselves offline.