NSA spying casts open Internet debate in new light

Joseph Torres and Malkia Cyril | 9/20/2013, 6 a.m.

Our nation’s Internet freedom is under attack — and the consequences for communities of color couldn’t be greater.

The revelation that the NSA is spying on Americans — with the help of tech and broadband companies — should frighten anyone fighting for racial justice. After all, our nation has a long and shameful history of using surveillance to disrupt racial- and social-justice movements.

Just as scary are the moves from profit-hungry broadband providers to interfere with and censor our Web traffic. This behavior is even more disturbing when you consider how critical the open Internet is for mobilizing dissent, closing the racial wealth gap and providing a platform for our stories that can counter the racial stereotypes found in so much mainstream media.

A federal court heard oral arguments last week in a lawsuit brought by Verizon that seeks to overturn the open Internet order the Federal Communications Commission passed in 2010.

Open Internet advocates had challenged the FCC to pass strong Net neutrality protections that barred Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against any online content. The commission, however, attempted to placate the industry by approving watered-down rules. But Verizon wasn’t satisfied and wants to gut the Net neutrality protections altogether.

In court filings, Verizon argued it has the right to edit our online free speech and compared the function of broadband providers to the role of newspaper publishers. “Just as a newspaper is entitled to decide which content to publish and where,” Verizon wrote, “broadband providers may feature some content over others.”

What will happen if Verizon prevails in overturning the Net neutrality rules? Internet service providers — including those that have colluded with the government to spy on us — will have the power to silence dissident voices fighting injustice and inequality.

To protect the digital rights of communities of color, Free Press and the Center for Media Justice, along with ColorOfChange and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, recently launched Voices for Internet Freedom.

Voices is a network of organizations advocating for communities of color in the fight to protect Internet freedom from corporate and government discrimination. We’re fighting to ensure the Internet remains an open and nondiscriminatory platform for free speech and assembly.

Protecting the open Internet is essential to the struggle for racial justice. It allows us to tell our own stories and counter racist stereotypes promulgated in the media. It gives us the opportunity to educate, defend and represent ourselves — in our own voices.

An open Internet is also essential to building wealth in our communities — rather than having our labor exploited to create wealth for others.

Millions of small businesses owned by people of color use the open Internet to compete against large corporations. But broadband companies want to implement a pay-for-play system that would give preferential treatment to those who can pay big bucks for speedy access to their websites and online services.

Meanwhile, sites for small businesses — including those owned by people of color — would be stuck in the slow lane, unable to compete.