Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner today underlined the transformative power and disruptive power of internet.
In his remarks on “Internet Freedom and Responsibility”, Mr. Posner said the world is facing a series of challenges at the intersection of human rights, connective technologies, business and government.
“It’s a busy intersection and a lot of people want to put up traffic lights. Entire industries have been upended, starting with Old Media. In a single decade, new technologies have decimated traditional newsrooms and killed their business model, but given rise to literally millions of citizen bloggers and citizen filmmakers and a new global journalism outlet called You Tube. All in one decade.” -Mr. Posner
He said tens of thousands of people armed with cell-phone cameras and video, documenting what is happening on the streets of the Middle East. He said some can upload it within minutes. Others have to smuggle it out in places like Syria. He stressed the truth is getting out.
“And yet, these amazing technologies haven’t made it any safer to do reporting in these hard places – or for human rights activists to talk to one another.” -Mr. Posner
He noted that the Arab spring brought home the power of the Internet to governments far beyond the Middle East, and the result has been more censorship, more surveillance and more restrictions.
He stated that repressive governments used to set up firewalls at Internet Exchange Points to block external content they disliked. He said now they’re using bots to delete posts and block emails in something approaching real time. They’re using surreptitious deep-packet inspection and sophisticated key-logger software to track what their citizens do online. They are exerting overbroad state control over content, over users, and over companies. And they’re trying to change national and international legal standards to legitimize it all.
“Let me give you one example. Last month in New York the governments of China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan came to the UN to suggest the need for an “International Code of Conduct for Information Security.” This would shift cyberspace away from being a multi-stakeholder, people-driven model – to a system dominated by centralized government control. Not a good idea.” -Mr. Posner
He cited that an online world where more and more countries begin policing content for ideological correctness – whether they call it a Halal Internet or a hate-free Internet – would extinguish the promise of technology to drive global understanding and the free exchange of information, ideas, and innovation.
“Internet space – which has seemed so open and free – could become less so. We are up against an ever more sophisticated range of technical, legal, and political challenges to freedom in cyberspace. Secretary Clinton has called the Internet the town square of the 21st Century. The Obama administration has staked out a principled stand on Internet freedom, arguing that the fundamental freedoms apply online just as they do offline. That includes the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association.” -Mr. Posner
He highlighted that to advance the fundamental freedoms of internet, there is a need to help citizens, corporations and global civil society for what is likely to be a long, tough struggle with regimes that do not share their values or their views on the merits of openness. He particularly wanted to call attention to the role of companies, because today corporations have more global influence than ever.
“The Internet on which the future depends can’t be maintained as an open and global network if we don’t work together to figure out how to push back against those who care more about political domination than empowering innovation. My problem is your problem. It’s all of our problem.” -Mr. Posner