Internet freedom has become a critical component of functional democracies. Global events like the election in Iran highlight the important role that both Internet freedom and press freedom play in maintaining the balance of power between people and politics.
“We have come to take it for granted the important role that an informed and free press has in reining in even our democratically elected governments: any mischief, any minor indiscretion, any favoritism, is subject to scrutiny, and public pressure works powerfully.”
And, should that book be published today, no doubt Stiglitz would note that “an informed and free press” is threatened in all countries, not just Iran, when Internet freedom is undermined.
The relationship between Internet freedom and press freedom becomes even more apparent as traditional “trusted” news sources begin to downsize and file for bankruptcy, in the face of a changing news environment that favours “real time,” over “batch” processing. As citizen reporting and other forms of distributed journalism emerge to fill the gaps left by a failing news industrial complex, the importance of Internet freedom surfaces as perhaps the most pressing issue of our time.
Iran’s history of Internet censorship is well documented. Its regime against those seeking information, or seeking to inform, would appear to be brutal by most International standards. Nonetheless, its citizens persevere and – with the help of censorship-circumventing technology – continue to report what is happening on the ground.
As the grassroots election reporting started flowing out of Iran, there was a noticeable movement to ensure that those in Iran could continue to report the events that were impacting them. Most noticeably, on micro-blogging services like Twitter, there was an enormous effort to ensure that information about anonymous proxy servers – services that enable people in Iran to communicate with the rest of the free-and-open Internet – was easily available and constantly updated.
These anti-censorship circumvention technologies – for computers and for mobile phones – are only necessary when Internet freedoms are restricted. Until such time that basic Internet freedoms are secured for all people, in all countries, there will need to be a strong movement of “radical technologists” that work to challenge these restrictions in all of their forms.
The Internet situation in Iran is just foreshadowing for the rest of the world. It’s not just direct censorship of the Internet, or country-wide filtering and firewalls, that are the problem. In many countries, there is active lobbying underway to create a new “tiered” Internet that would concentrate too much power in the hands of a few telecommunications monopolies. This attack on basic freedom of the Internet – the freedoms that are protected by “Net Neutrality” – is simply a back-room dealing to create the same restrictions without being as overt.
Want to learn more, or take action? Have a look at the efforts of organizations like:
- Freepress and their SaveTheInternet.com campaign
- Freedom House’s campaigns focusing on the middle east.
- Reporters Without Borders and their reporting on abuse of Internet freedoms
- International Freedom of Expression Exchange
And, if you know of an organization working on Internet freedom issues, please leave a comment below.