Online Rights and Safety

Picture of several European newspapers with Wikileaks-related headlines
Photo Credit: The War Logs by Alex Covic

(Note: Although this is still a timely topic, due to the devastating snow storm and resulting power loss throughout the state of Connecticut, I have chosen to repeat last year’s post on this topic.)

Wikileaks Iraq and Afghan War Diaries (note: since December 3, 2010, it has been impossible to reach the site through this URL. For more information on this, see here.) has once again dominated broadcast news in recent days, not only in the U.S., but elsewhere around the globe. Aside from the short- and long-term political, military and economic ramifications from the leak of these documents, one thing is clear: the Internet has made it extremely easy for anyone just about anywhere to virally disseminate information on a global scale.

So what does that mean for you, your colleagues and your students? In this week’s session we’ll take a look at concerns related to online rights and safety as reflected in the multiple perspectives found in our readings. We’ll discuss here how these issues impact us personally and professionally.

I hope you can all find some way to stay safe and warm in the aftermath of Storm Alfred.


Session Twelve—Online Rights and Safety

The Web is Agreement
The Web is Agreement courtesy of Paul Downey (Creative Commons License) from his flickr account. To really get the full effect of this Tolkien-inspired sketch, be sure to go to his site where you’ll find a notated picture as well as a high quality pdf of this drawing.

Carolyn Campbell, in her blog post, “Learning in classrooms with glass walls raises important issues regarding student work in public spaces. In a recent post, Carolyn shares a link to a digital identity quiz that we might want to take in class on Tuesday.

For this Tuesday we have several readings, web site visits and a presentation that deal with the issue of online rights and privacy. In The Amplification Effect, Margaret Soltan, Professor of English at GWU, offers a cautionary tale to universities and colleges that choose to ignore the power of the Internet to ‘brand’ their institutions in ways unforseen and powerful. Dick Hardt, founder and CEO of Sxip Identity, discusses the problems involved in authenticating online identity in a 2005 keynote address. Terry Calhoun’s article, Admissions of Guilt, explores the ethical complications of easily available online access to information on students and employees that exists outside of official university business. Creative Commons takes a novel approach to copyright, giving creators a continuum of copyright options to select from when sharing their work with others. In class we’ll take a look at how some educational institutions, MIT, Berkeley, Drew University and Harvard, for example, have made their content freely available on the Internet as well as look at some options that offer solutions to identity security.

We are still in a state of flux, however, with regards to open access. In March of this year, the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board used the 1998 Digital Millennium Act to dramatically increase the royalty fee Internet radio broadcasters must pay to play copyrighted material. These stations, broadcasting from all over the world, provide rich, authentic content for language educators in the form of news, sports, talk and music. In response to what many see as the demise of Internet radio, several legislators (see, for example, U.S. representative Jay Inslee’s site) have introduced a bill that, if passed, would provide equity to small, independent Internet broadcasters, on par with their ‘terrestrial’ colleagues.

Another recent issue that aligns with the intent of the Digital Millennium Act is the effort by major Internet service providers to create a tiered system of Internet access. Briefly stated, those content providers who pay more will have guaranteed high speed transmission of their content, while those who pay less or not at all, will see their content, to use Bill Moyer’s toll bridge analogy, “stuck in the crowded, slow-moving line, and users will have to wait longer for their content to load.” Some have argued that the threat extends even further, to the possibility that these telecom providers, without governmental regulation, could develop proprietarty, competitive services and block subscriber access to rival sites. For a solid overview of the issue from both sides of the fence, check out the Wikipedia article on Network neutrality.