Do as I say, not as I do: The US Government Is Absurdly Hypocritical about Internet Censorship

It was reported this morning that the head of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, chastised Russia for passing an internet censorship bill.  Let’s look at what the Russian bill would do:

The Russian Duma, its lower house of Parliament, approved the controversial bill unanimously on Wednesday. The measure would give the government the power to force site owners and Internet providers to shut down blacklisted sites. Supporters of the bill say it is aimed at curbing child pornography and sites that promote drug use or suicide.

We all know, of course, that this isn’t actually about stopping abuse of children; it’s about giving the Russian government more power to control and censor speech.

So the FCC chair said that Russia has moved in a “troubling and dangerous direction” because “The world’s experience with the Internet provides a clear lesson: a free and open Internet promotes economic growth and freedom; restricting the free flow of information is bad for consumers, businesses, and societies.”

Man, America is such a champion for freedom — holding everybody accountable to the same high standard we always follow.


Remember SOPA?  It was ultimately not passed thanks to massive online protests (though President Obama recently enacted some of the same controls through a quiet little executive order signing).  But, as is noted later in the article reporting on the Russian bill:

The controversy over the bill, and in particular the Wikipedia blackout, is reminiscent of the battle earlier this year in the United States over anti-piracy legislation. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would have allowed the U.S. government to cut off access to sites dedicated to copyright infringement, and critics claimed it amounted to Internet censorship.

Now, the FCC chair evidently “carefully avoided wading into the controversy over SOPA,” but he is, in fact, the chair of the FCC — and the 1934 act which created the FCC is also responsible for the President’s possession of an “internet kill switch” if he feels there is a security threat to justify it.  Also, last I checked, the FCC is all about “Regulation of Obscenity, Indecency and Profanity”…and shutting people down who violate those regulations:

It is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to broadcast indecent or profane programming during certain hours. Congress has given the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the responsibility for administratively enforcing the law that governs these types of broadcasts. Among other things, the FCC has authority to issue civil monetary penalties, revoke a license, and deny a renewal application. In addition, a federal district court may impose fines and/or imprisonment for up to two years on those who are convicted of criminal violations of the law.

So, while Genachowski may not have specifically weighed in on SOPA, it’s highly doubtful that he opposes it.  He certainly doesn’t oppose shutting people down over obscenity charges.  And even supposing he is personally consistent on this matter, we’re still left with a situation in which our government is condemning another government for passing a bill we almost passed (and ultimately enacted part of through executive order).

Kennedy and Reagan both referenced Puritan minister John Winthrop’s line, “We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us” while in office.  Weird implications about exceptionalism and special favor from God aside, yeah, the size, wealth, and power of America means that “the eyes of all people are upon us.”  

And what those eyes are seeing is hypocrisy.

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