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a citizen-centric internet « Previous | |Next »
July 21, 2011

Rebecca McKinnon is well known for her research, writing and advocacy global Internet policy, free expression, and the impact of digital technologies on human rights. In her talk Let's take back the Internet! she says:

So here's the thing, we have a situation where private companies are applying censorship standards that are often quite arbitrary and generally more narrow than the free speech constitutional standards that we have in democracies. Or they're responding to censorship requests by authoritarian regimes that do not reflect consent of the governed. Or they're responding to requests and concerns by governments that have no jurisdiction over many, or most, of the users and viewers who are interacting with the content in question.

So here's the situation. In a pre-Internet world, sovereignty over our physical freedoms, or lack thereof, was controlled almost entirely by nation states. But now we have this new layer of private sovereignty in cyberspace. And their decisions about software coding, engineering, design, terms of service all act as a kind of law that shapes what we can and cannot do with our digital lives. And their sovereignties, cross-cutting, globally interlinked, can in some ways challenge the sovereignties of nation states in very exciting ways, but sometimes also act to project and extend it at a time when control over what people can and cannot do with information has more effect than ever on the exercise of power in our physical world.

She adds that the reality is that even in democratic societies today, we do not have good answers for how you balance the need for security and law enforcement on one hand and protection of civil liberties and free speech on the other in our digital networks. In fact, in the United States, whatever you may think of

She adds:

The most urgent question we need to be asking today is how do we make sure that the Internet evolves in a citizen-centric manner. Because I think all of you will agree that the only legitimate purpose of government is to serve citizens. And I would argue that the only legitimate purpose of technology is to improve our lives, not to manipulate or enslave us...So what we need to recognize is that if we want to have a citizen-centric Internet in the future, we need a broader and more sustained Internet freedom movement. After all, companies didn't stop polluting

While private sector companies have a responsibility to respect and uphold the rights of customers and users, they cannot on their own be expected to solve the political and geopolitical problems that threaten free expression in the first place. Addressing the core problems requires government leadership.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:45 PM |