Internet Freedom

  • 8 December 2010

The Twitter feed of Heather Brooke directed me to a speech given by U.S. of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, delivered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

This is an important speech on an important subject. … In the last year, we’ve seen a spike in threats to the free flow of information. China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan have stepped up their censorship of the internet. In Vietnam, access to popular social networking sites has suddenly disappeared. And last Friday in Egypt, 30 bloggers and activists were detained. … So while it is clear that the spread of these technologies is transforming our world, it is still unclear how that transformation will affect the human rights and welfare of much of the world’s population.

On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress. But the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. This challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to the Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.
Franklin Roosevelt built on these ideas when he delivered his Four Freedoms speech in 1941. At the time, Americans faced a cavalcade of crises and a crisis of confidence. But the vision of a world in which all people enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear transcended the trouble of his day.

I couldn’t agree more. However the USA are the very same country that also thinks about persecuting journalists. Journalism may be turned into espionage and punished severely. The question arises which challenges Mrs Clinton meant when delivering her speech. Was she speaking about the tyranny of a military regime or a state not being the USA? Other journalists jump to the rescue and try to distinguish between an unstructured collection of information, calling it a database, and carefully verified and polished information, calling it a book. I don’t think that discussing semantics will be very helpful here. Wikileaks or Cryptome simply have no editors that streamline information and turn databases into books. This is the design of these collections. There is no book. You have to write it yourself which is precisely the problem. Most journalists do not research anymore. They shun to dig for really important, critical or dangerous information. Copying newsfeeds and changing a few words is not journalism. If a journalist can be replaced by a very small shell script, then one should not expect to find new insights or perspectives. It depends on how you use the information and if you ask serious questions. People have forgotten to doubt what they read. This is why we need every wake-up call we can get.

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