Censorship In The US: How To Browse Anonymously

Internet Censorship In The US

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A summary of censorship in the US

US citizens’ freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment. That, along with a democratic societal backbone, are the reasons US internet censorship is not widespread. Some censorship exists, in limited areas, but the main problem is surveillance. Since Edward Snowden leaked information about massive surveillance performed by the NSA, people in the US have become more and more aware of it.

If you want to protect yourself against surveillance by the government, you can always use a VPN. A Virtual Private Network will hide your IP and let you navigate the web anonymously. ExpressVPN is one of the best VPNs on the market.

Find out more by reading this whole article.

Internet access is ubiquitous for most U.S citizens. In a country of over 326 million people, about 90 percent have access to the internet, through home or mobile broadband.

Internet users in the United States face little restrictions on their ability to access content online, especially compared to countries like China, Iran, Vietnam, and Cuba.

The First Amendment of the U.S Constitution, which prevents the government from abridging the freedom of speech or the freedom of the press, is the main reason censorship can’t be extended in the US. However, critical developments over the 2017/18 period have seen internet freedoms in the United States decrease. Some content is still censored in the US, so let’s dive into US censorship, understand why, and how to overcome it.

Reduced Neutrality

Under its Republican commissioner, Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overturned the net neutrality provisions guaranteed under the 2015 Open Internet Order. However, back in October 2020, the federal government rolled back to its Open Internet Order regulation. This back and forth can happen again, but as of writing this article, net neutrality is in effect.

But the FCC and Open Internet Order aren’t the only pieces of legislation that lead to censorship. The “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” (SESTA/FOSTA) bill, designed to combat sex trafficking conducted via the internet had the unintended side effect of establishing liability for companies that host user-generated content. This lead to companies such as Craigslist, Reddit, and Tumblr proactively self-censoring.

Moreover, during 2017, President Trump, through S.J. Resolution 34, nullified the FCC’s broadband privacy guidelines. This rolled back regulations introduced to give broadband consumers more control over how their personal information is collected and used by ISPs.

Increased Surveillance Powers

Surveillance of internet user activities, as well as retention and transmission of user data, has soared in the U.S over the last decade.

The USA FREEDOM Act and the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD) both expanded the government’s surveillance and investigative powers. Section 702 of FISA, which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to access any communications data, was reauthorized, despite the government recognizing “widespread violations of protocols intended to limit access to Americans’ communications by NSA analysts.”

In this article, we will look at how these laws have affected internet freedoms in the United States and what methods can circumvent government surveillance and ensure your online anonymity.

What Content Does the US Censor?

As a general rule, the United States government does not block or filter access to content on the internet. There are some small exceptions to this, such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 (CIPA) which requires public libraries in the US to install filtering software that prevents minors from accessing content that is obscene or harmful.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 prevents online sites and services from being prosecuted for the activities of their users. The U.S government has limited power to censor, blacklist, or take down websites hosting user-generated content. Illegal content posted online, such as images of child abuse, can be removed if it’s hosted within the United States, although this requires a court order.

Media that infringes on US copyright protections can be removed under the “notice-and-take-down” mechanisms of Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Under the DMCA, hosting sites are shielded from legal liability if they act to remove the offending content when they receive the DMCA notice. The DMCA is also used to take down content that violates copyright laws.

SESTA/FOSTA

In 2017, President Trump signed the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017,” into law. Primarily designed to prevent sex trafficking, this new law establishes legal liability for websites and platforms that “promote or facilitate prostitution of five or more persons, or act with reckless disregard that such conduct contributes to sex trafficking.”

Critics of SESTA/FOSTA noted that the law undercuts the protections granted by the 1996 Telecommunications Act by making companies legally liable for under generated content before they had been informed of its existence.

After the bill was passed, Craigslist announced the removal of its “Personals” section from its website for fear of legal action, forcing them to censor their website preemptively. Besides Craigslist, Reddit removed parts of their site, as did VerifyHim, a tool that helps sex workers avoid abusive clients.

Online Surveillance and Privacy Violations

Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the U.S government has massively increased the mandate for its security and law enforcement services, such as the NSA and FBI, to surveil US citizens and to collect their personal information, from phone logs to online activities, under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA)

The USA FREEDOM Act, signed into law by then President Obama, extended the provision of the PATRIOT Act. With Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act reauthorized in2017, the NSA continues to have the power to collect users’ communications data, including content posted online, from US tech companies or by directly siphoning it from telecommunications infrastructure and undersea cables.

Executive Order 12333 authorizes the collection and retention of US citizens’ metadata, and the content of their communications, on the requirement that the data can only be collected “incidentally.” This allows the NSA to collect the communication data of US citizens in bulk, including online activities, and store it for up to five years.

In 2018, the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD) was signed into law, significantly expanding law enforcement’s access to data stored by companies overseas. Civil rights activists have argued that the CLOUD act undermines users’ privacy by giving the U.S government extraordinary powers to force companies to hand over their user’s data.

How to Circumvent Censorship

Some US censorship, like Craigslist removing its Personals category, can’t be circumvented. However, blocked content can be accessed with the help of a VPN. If you’re worried about state surveillance, a VPN will also ensure you’re anonymous online. You just need to subscribe to one, and navigate the web under a pseudonym.

Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to ensure online anonymity is entirely legal in the United States and an effective way of circumventing the US government’s increasing powers of surveillance.

However, Executive Order 12333 and the new CLOUD Act might force VPN providers to hand over user data, even if it is not stored in the US. To avoid this scenario, use a pseudonym, and only get a VPN from our list below, to make sure your data isn’t logged.

What is the Best VPN Service to use in the United States?

We don’t recommend you sign-up for a free VPN. Some of them can be good, but the connection will be slow, and you risk having your data logged. That’s why picking a VPN from the list below is the best choice you can make.

ExpressVPN

If you are looking for a VPN with a great connection, then look no further than ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN offers you a massive selection of well over 3000 servers worldwide, and their vast network allows you to bypass geo-blocking and even anonymously download through torrent networks.

If you are worried about being surveilled online, Express VPN uses world-class data encryption and their system includes a kill switch to prevent data leaks. They also operate a “no-logging” policy and do not keep records on your online activities.

You can load ExpressVPN’s user-friendly application onto all your devices, as it works on Android, iPhone, Windows, and OS x. Even better, you can get an exclusive deal of 3 free months if you sign up for a year’s plan with ExpressVPN using our link.

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NordVPN

NordVPN is one of the premier VPN service providers, offering advanced encryption, a reliable, speedy service, and a vast range of servers in countries all over the world. In order to keep your user data as secure as possible, NordVPN operates a “no logging” policy.

Since they are also headquartered in Panama, they are under no legal obligation to keep records of your online activities, offering you complete anonymity and protection from online surveillance. So while US Internet Service Providers normally keep track of your every online move, NordVPN hides all your activities from prying eyes.

If you want to enjoy streaming services around the world, then NordVPN might be the right choice for you. For example, it lets you bypass restrictions on streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try their services for a month without committing.

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CyberGhost

One of the major benefits of picking CyberGhost as your VPN provider is that their easy-to-use software can be installed on up to 7 devices, allowing you to surf anonymously on whichever device you are using.

The CyberGhost software is also software compatible with Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, and Linux, meaning you don’t have to choose between your iPad and your Android phone. CyberGhost’s 45-day money-back-guarantee means if you aren’t entirely happy with their service, you can claim your subscription cost back with no questions asked.

All of the aforementioned features make CyberGhost a wise choice for users from the United States.

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Final Thoughts

Compared to countries such as China, Iran, the UEA, and Turkey, the United States places very few restrictions on internet access and content. The suppression of material on political, social, or moral grounds that is seen in more restrictive countries is absent, and the right to free speech and freedom of the press is enshrined in the U.S Constitution.

However, in reaction to the threat of global terrorism, the U.S government has massively expanded both its mandate and ability to surveil its citizens’ online activities besides collecting and storing their personal data, resulting in a sharp reduction in overall internet freedoms.

FAQ About US Censorship

If you have any questions about US censorship, you might find your answer below. This is a list of the most frequently asked questions about US censorship, and our answer to them.

The US isn’t that focused on censoring the internet. The few instances of content taken down usually has to do with copyright claims, like DMCA notices. Of course, there’s surveillance, but for the most part the US censors the internet to uphold its laws.

The first way in which the US censors the internet is indirect. Regulation like the FOSTA or SESTA have indirectly affected platforms like Tumblr or Craigslist. Second of all, US censorship is done through in-platform mechanisms for DMCA notices. Lastly, surveillance is underwent by governmental agencies, with the stated purpose of stopping criminal activity and terrorism.

While internet censorship is not that big of a problem in the US, people living or traveling there, might want to avoid widespread surveillance by the government. That’s why a VPN (Virtual Private Network) can come in handy. A VPN will hide your IP, and make you anonymous when browsing the web. Read our article on US censorship to find out more.

Tech writer
Theodor is a content writer passionate about the newest tech developments and content marketing strategies. He likes privacy-friendly software, SEO tools, and when he's not writing, he's trying to convince people they should uninstall TikTok.