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Internet Freedom and its Discontents

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In this class we studied the "Internet Freedom" speeches of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and then looked at critiques and counter-arguments made by Evgeny Morozov, Sami Ben Gharbia and Cory Doctorow.

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Internet Freedom and its Discontents

  1. 1. DPI-665Politics of the Internet April 11, 2012 Internet Freedom And Its Discontents Micah L. SifryAudio: http://bit.ly/HXBsgW CC-BY-NC-SA
  2. 2. Topics for discussion• What is “Internet Freedom”?• Why is this being talked about now?• Are we naïve about the role of the Internet in closed societies?• Should the U.S. Govt align itself with U.S. tech companies? (and vice versa?)• Who does the net empower more? Governments or activists? Why?
  3. 3. Texts from Hillary
  4. 4. Texts from Hillary• “a new nervous system for our planet”• “the more freely info flows, the stronger societies become”• “equal access to knowledge and ideas”• “the internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others”• “freedom to connect is like freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace”
  5. 5. More Texts from Hillary• “Internet has become the public space of the 21st c”• “Freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I’ve called the freedom to connect”• “Without security, liberty is fragile; without liberty security is oppressive”
  6. 6. Hold this thought…“The WikiLeaks incident “And one final word on this matter: There were reports in the days began with a theft, just following these leaks that the United as if it had been States Government intervened to coerce private companies to deny executed by smuggling service to WikiLeaks. That is not the papers in a briefcase. case. Now, some politicians and pundits publicly called for The fact that WikiLeaks companies to disassociate from used the internet is not WikiLeaks, while others criticized them for doing so. Public officials the reason we criticized are part of our country’s public its actions. WikiLeaks debates, but there is a line between expressing views and coercing does not challenge our conduct. Business decisions that commitment to internet private companies may have taken to enforce their own values or freedom.” policies regarding WikiLeaks were not at the direction of the Obama Administration.”
  7. 7. Critiquing “Internet Freedom”• Google Doctrine: “the enthusiastic belief in the liberating power of technology accompanied by the irresistible urge to enlist Silicon Valley start-ups in the global fight for freedom”• Cyber-utopianism: “the idea that the Internet favors the oppressed rather than the oppressor”
  8. 8. Morozov’s Good Questions• Iran: What “Twitter revolution”?• Did State Dept endanger dissidents by embracing US tech (like Twitter?)• Does increasing access to Western info sources lead to democratization? Or to depoliticization? (as in, David vs David Letterman, and Big Brother vs Big Brother• Is the “dictator’s dilemma” truly that bad--or does greater internet access allow for better surveillance and control?
  9. 9. Assessing “Internet Freedom” From an Arab Democracy Perspective• “U.S official and corporate involvement in the Internet Freedom movement is harmful for that same freedom.”• “When putting Internet freedom at the center of its foreign policy agenda, the U.S will be disinclined to engage in any kind of action which might endanger the ‘stability’ of the dictatorial Arab order.”• “Foreign money delegitimizes political and social activism”• “Money has always corrupted activism”
  10. 10. Abu Gharbia’s Advice“For digital activism in the Arab world to achieve its noble aspirations, it must remain independent and homegrown, tapping its financial, logistic and moral support into the grassroots level or try to seek a support from neutral parties that do not push for any kind of political or ideological agenda.”“If the U.S. and other Western governments want to support Internet Freedom they should start by prohibiting the export of censor wares and other filtering software to our countries. After all, most of the tools used to muzzle our online free expression and monitor our activities on the Internet are being engineered and sold by American and Western corporations.”
  11. 11. Critiquing Morozov: Cory Doctorow“When Morozov talks about the security risks arising from dissidents use of Facebook – which neatly packages up lists of dissidents to be targeted by oppressive nations secret police – he does so without ever mentioning the protracted, dire warnings of exactly this problem that have come from the ‘cyber-utopian’ vanguard.”“There is hardly any mention at all of historys most prominent internet freedom fighters, such as the venerable cypherpunks movement, who have spent decades building, disseminating and promoting the use of cryptographic tools that are purpose-built to evade the kind of snooping and network analysis he (rightly) identifies as being implicit in the use of Facebook, Google and other centralised, private tools to organise political movements.”
  12. 12. Strong Crypto for Dissidents“It is vastly easier to scramble a message than it is to break the scrambling system and gain access to the message without the key.“Poorly resourced individuals and groups with cheap, old computers are able to encipher their messages to an extent that they cannot be deciphered by all the secret police in the world… In this sense, at least, the technological deck is stacked in favour of dissidents – who have never before enjoyed the power to hide their communiques beyond the reach of secret police – over the state, who have always enjoyed the power to keep secrets from the people.”

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