6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (V). Karin Deutsch Karlekar: The State of Freedom on the Net

Notes from the 6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference: Cloud Computing: Law and Politics in the Cloud, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on July 7th and 8th, 2010. More notes on this event: idp2010.

The State of Freedom on the Net
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Freedom House

If you cannot see the video, please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3411">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3411</a>

Freedom on the Net (FOTN) report analyses how are rights respected on the Internet, especially right of communications, privacy, etc. Questions asked:

  • Internet and new media dominating flow of news and information
  • What techniques do governments use to control and censor online content
  • What are the main threats
  • What are the positive trends

The methodology examines the level of internet and ICT freedom through a set of 19 questions and 90 subquestions, organized into three baskets:
* Obstacles to Access—including governmental efforts to block specific applications or technologies; infrastructural and economic barriers to access; and legal and ownership control over internet and mobile phone access providers.
* Limits on Content—including filtering and blocking of websites; other forms of censorship and self-censorship; manipulation of content; the diversity of online news media; and usage of digital media for social and political activism.
* Violations of User Rights—including legal protections and restrictions on online activity; surveillance and other privacy violations; and repercussions for online activity, such as prosecution, imprisonment, physical attacks, and other forms of harassment.

Negative trends

11 of the 15 countries censored content; 7 of the 15 countries blocked web 2.0 applications; there are also restrictions on infrastructures (speed restriction or broadband restriction, total access restriction, etc.)

In low-income countries, there are infrastructure and economic constrains, but, in general, economic issues are barriers that are overcome in low-income countries when a benefit can be made from ICTs.

Censorship is not always related to political or social content. We find significant lack of transparency in censorship procedures, including in some democracies. There is a wide range of techniques for blocking and/or removing content.

A nice example in images:

Censorship is being outsourced in some countries, the government hiring companies to run censorship or surveillance procedures themselves.

In many cases, it is ‘offline’ regulation, or general regulation the one that has an impact in online activity, like general media legislation against online activities, etc. This is leadind, in some cases, to “libel tourism”, where people have they web servers e.g. in the UK to put legal responsibility for posting or hosting content in a more democratic jurisdiction.

Of course, we find too extra-elgal repercussions, with detentions, intimidation, torture and extra-legal harassment and violence in general against “dissidents”. This also includes DDoS attacks, hacking, etc.

Positive trends

In general, there is more Internet freedom than press freedom, though the gap might be narrowing.

“Sneakernets” to avoid being monitored or scanned when being an activist on the Internet. Bloggers, though sometimes pushed-back because of threats, are increasingly creative in their usage of the Internet to have their voices heard.

Future trends:

  • more access to the Internet because of the mobile web and smartphones;
  • globalization and spread of Internet will not necessarily lead to greater freedom;
  • web 2.0 leading to Authoritarianism 2.0
  • foresight and creativity needed from more open countries to establish policies to protect free expression on new tecnologies.

Discussion

Albert Batlle: how is it that the UK scores worse in Freedom on the Net than Freedom of the Press. A: It might be because of “libel tourism”. Maybe because of that, maybe because of other issues, the reality is that it is easier in the UK to close a website than a newspaper, etc. All in all, it all highlights that though related, these are freedoms that can be taken independently.

Jordi Vilanova: what about the US and other western countries? A: Summing up, surveillance and even censorship are much more paramount that what would look like at first sight.

Mònica Vilasau: how do we tell censorship from e.g. fighting against copyright violation? A: It is always difficult to tell. It is nevertheless true that any kind of legal activity against online activity (legitimate or not) has chilling effects in the whole ecosystem.

Ismael Peña-López: the Wikileaks affair seems to have found a solution in a data haven in Iceland. Are data havens the solution to censorship? Will data havens allow people to act illegally under the flag of freedom? A: The problem with data havens, as with other barrier circumvention tools like TOR, is that they can be used both in good and evil ways. Nevertheless, it seems like, as now, there are more good uses than illegal ones, and way more need to enable transparency and to help democracy advocates rather than focus on prosecuting some illegal activities.

See also

6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2010)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2010) “6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (V). Karin Deutsch Karlekar: The State of Freedom on the Net” In ICTlogy, #82, July 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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