IN THE WEEK that the European Parliament was accused of playing Big Brother tricks The INQUIRER spoke with Evan Greer, the campaign manager for the Center for Rights and Fight for the Future, about free speech and supercats.
Greer told us that what the European Parliament was doing was censoring its citizens, and doing it out of fear because of the way that digital activists were reacting.
"The internet gives more people a voice than ever before, and politicians don't always like that. Digital activists are able to develop tools that allow people to contact their governments and express their opinion on unprecedented scale," said Greer.
"Blocking emails from constituents who are concerned about a particular subject can only be called one thing: censorship. A member of the European Parliament reported he had received hundreds of emails by midday and then they suddenly stopped. When he inquired, he learned that the parliament's IT department had started blocking the emails after some other MEPs complained. He further reported that he continued to receive emails from citizens about other issues. Censorship is unfortunately alive and well in Europe."
Greer has seen this before, and unsurprisingly it came at a time when votes on the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) were being discussed.
"This is not the first time emails to government officials complaining about internet censorship have been ironically censored. During the fights against ACTA, the Europe-wide equivalent of SOPA, thousands of emails on the subject were similarly blocked and sent to spam filters," added Greer.
"Anytime a government silences the voices of people expressing their opinion is a bad time. We would be concerned about MEPs blocking emails from their citizens regardless of which issue those citizens chose to speak out about."
Greer's group, the Center for Rights, immediately launched a petition that requested that the president of the European Parliament "immediately stop blocking emails from citizens".
"We hope that the President will choose to do the right thing here and not make the same mistake twice by continuing to ignore citizens' concerns. MEPs blocking emails from those who they purport to represent is a flagrant dereliction of duty and not to be taken lightly. The European Parliament owes its people a response," said Greer about the petition.
"People are very upset that this has happened again. We are seeing a fast response and have had a lot of people talking about this on Twitter using the hashtag #MEPblock. Thousands of people have already signed our petition, and we launched it late last night Europe time."
Greer is also active in the Internet Defense League (IDL), the cat emblemed band of web superheroes who campaign against draconian legislation like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA. We don't want to say it out loud, but it sounds like the cat idea is a winner.
"The Internet Defense League is one of the most successful projects we've launched. The League takes the viral tactics that we used to defeat SOPA in the US and turns them into a longterm network of activists and websites dedicated to sounding the alarm when the freedom of the internet is in danger," said Greer.
"The IDL has continued to be active, launching a powerful action recently in reaction to the ITU's recent attempt to impose top-down UN control over the internet. There are plans for actions coming up on CISPA [the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act]. We are also working to expand the IDL to support activists fighting for internet freedom internationally. A new IDL chapter is forming in Brazil and we have been gaining new members across the world."
What with the last 12 months including a number of battles over web freedom, we thought that perhaps it would go down as a bad year for the web and internet freedom. But not so, if you work at the Center for Rights and Fight for the Future.
"We actually call 2012 the 'Internet Spring'. The internet won again and again. We resoundingly defeated SOPA and PIPA. We killed ACTA. We beat CISPA, a bill that would end meaningful privacy online. Now CISPA has returned, and we were able to deliver over 300,000 signatures against it within the first week," said Greer.
"The internet is paying attention and politicians are learning more and more that they can't mess with it without making a lot of people upset." µ