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Free Speech

Free Speech01:46, June 14, 2011

In an article in the New York Times, the Internet guru Clay Shirky commented on the US State Department policy of supporting free speech and open networks and their lack of a policy aimed at destabilizing autocratic governments. It is, he says, the same thing. For once, I disagree with him. From a practical point-of-view (and given time) he is right. But from a policy perspective, there’s a huge difference.

I believe promoting universal ideals and values is better than supporting subversive organizations. I have a few reasons for this.

Reason I: Freedom of speech is not an end, but a mean.
I think most proponents of an open society would agree. The end is the open society itself: the democracy; the freedom; the opportunity for all to lead the lives they choose. Despite all its flaws, the most universal agreement we have on the issue is the Declaration of Human Rights.

Reason II: No One Path
No democracies–neither in the western nor global world–share the same history. There are radical differences to how democracy came about in Sweden and France for example. Both these two countries where once monarchies with a king who held absolute power. The method used to dismantle authoritarianism ranged from revolutions to reforms, but regardless of which path they took, democracy was an effect of increased demands from its people. Not the other way around.

Reason III: They might not want your help
What’s important is that whatever method people use to achieve democracy, is their method. Their way. Reading bloggers from the Middle East, it becomes apparent that there are inherent issues with being associated with technology that can be labeled in the service of foreign interests. (I have expanded on my views on this in an earlier post.)

Reason IV: The Neutral Network
One of the reasons that the Internet is a very good tool for promoting change is because the technology itself is apolitical. The inherent openness of the network is a major reason it got allowed into the repressive states to begin with.

In a parallel universe, where closed services like AOL prevailed over the open Internet, do you think Iran would have let it inside its borders? I doubt it. Even less so if it was not operated by AOL but by the CIA. And, even-even less so if the CIA operated it under with the express intention of bringing the Iranian state down.

Reason V: Outflanking Them
I believe that, in the long run, openness and transparency will prevail. I believe that once people can exchange ideas freely, the modes of the state will have to change. But it’s not primarily the US Government, or any other foreign entity, who should be the instigator of change. They can provide the tools, but should do so with care. The people will do the rest. In due time, perhaps. But they will.

Free Speech and ICT4D14:12, April 8, 2011

The recent race to fund, what is generally described as, democratizing technology made me go back and re-read an article from last fall. Written by Sami Ben Gharbia, a Tunisian exile based in the Netherlands and the Advocacy Director of Global Voices Online, it has the cumbersome—but quite informative—title The Internet Freedom Fallacy and the Arab Digital Activism.

It’s truly an interesting read in a time where world leaders (and pundits) are trying to understand and explain what forces set off the avalanche of protests in the Arab world. A very common explanation has been to attribute a lot of credit to the new media landscape – and also to services created by western companies, such as Twitter and Facebook. Even though some weeks have passed, we’re pretty much in the eye of the storm, and it can be difficult to maintain perspective on everything that happens.

Interestingly enough, Ben Gharbia’s article is about the relationship between the activists and the western countries, written some six months before the revolution. At least to me, that puts some extra weight behind his arguments. Basically, he questions whether or not active western involvement in providing certain services are beneficial or if it is, at worst, actually hurting the very same struggle it sets out to help.

Follow the Money
My renewed interest in this topic—apart from being pulled in by the gravity of inspiring change—comes from the government pledges in the months. Millions of dollars have been earmarked for the struggle of Internet freedom and free speech online. Internet activists are the new revolutionaries; the sparks that lights the fire of democracy, it seems. Hillary Clinton made them part of the US foreign policy and the Swedish government where quick to follow.

I took part in a meeting at the Swedish Department for Foreign Affairs where representatives from the private sector, NGOs and academia. At the request of the Minister for International Development Cooperation, we were invited to discuss the need for support to Internet activists and how the Swedish government could assist in such matters. A vocal part of the group were entrepreneurs who were restless to get going with services in democracy’s favor. While I certainly applaud the initiative they show, I also maintain that the fearless quality often associated with venture capitalists might be difficult—and risky—to apply to development projects.

No Good Do-Gooders?
With some insight from the traditional NGO sector, I know that spending the dollars wisely is of uttermost importance, not only for the “investors” but also for the recipients. While there are many terrific development projects across the world, rest assured that they didn’t come about by chance. They are the result of a lot of smart people’s hard work and experience – some drawn from a lot of very costly mistakes.

The international “aid industry”—to use a quite derogatory term—has a history lined with failed projects. Some of these projects were small – others were enormously huge. At best, failure meant that money flushed down the toilet. At worst, it destroyed lives, societies, resources or infrastructure for decades.

Some secondary effects of the failures were even worse as it dented people’s trust in the institutions – both on their and on our end. Such mistrust is deeply unfortunate as it damages any opportunity to build strong civil institutions because they are­—you guessed it—based around trust.

It is humbling to remember is that also disastrous projects were designed and implemented with the best of intentions.

Designing successful development projects, regardless if its support of an advocacy group, human right or humanitarian work, is not something to be taken lightly. In private enterprise, venture capitalists risk their own money. Nothing more, nothing less. If a product fails, the VC walks away with a little less money. If a development project fail, the consequences for people can be devastating. Say a routing protocol designed specifically to help Iranians circumvent their Internet blocking would be compromised, and thousands of people would be jailed because of it, can we just shrug and say: “Ehum, well, we tried!”?

Always remember that simply wanting to do good is no guarantee that you will do good.

My Unordered Checklist
While I realize that I might seem hesitant to the benefits of development aid, I can assure you that is not the case. But, one has to remember that it has it’s own logic, just like any area. I’ve outlined a few points, specifically with regards to Internet projects, that I think should be considered with great care.

  1. The beneficiaries should initiate projects. Trust people’s inherent capacity as well as their ability to know what’s best for them. Don’t master them or push technology or ideology down their throats. That would, more often than not, do more harm than good.
  2. Maintain a network that’s free and neutral. Political ideology is not basis for discrimination – it will only bring suspicion. Live by the values you preach and differentiate the medium from the message.
  3. Encourage strong civil institutions. They weave networks of trust between people. And trust build nations.
  4. Ensure sustainability. External support is always finite and the project must be designed to keep going, even after you’re gone.
  5. Last, but certainly not least: Work to fulfill the rights of people, rather than the needs of beneficiaries. Use a human rights based approach. Use Article 19. Live by it.
Censorship and Free Speech03:32, March 12, 2011

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) just released an updated version of its publication The Enemies of the Internet (1.7 Mb PDF) today. The report, released annually, attempts to summarize the current situation and report on practices if censorship, arrests and other means to keep the Internet behind lock and key.

This years report has some interesting changes from previous years. Tunisia and Egypt have been removed from the list of enemies of the Internet following the fall of their governments. These countries nonetheless remain under surveillance, as does Libya. The gains of these revolutions must be consolidated and the new freedoms must be guaranteed.

RSF have also placed three democracies – Australia, South Korea and France – under surveillance because of various measures they have taken that could have negative consequences for online free expression and Internet access.

The introduction of the report is an excellent overview from the last year and should be required reading for anyone with and interest in the field.

(Disclosure: I’m a member of the board of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders.)

Free Speech and Internet Governance16:26, March 5, 2011

Image of the Al Jazeera newsroom in Doha, Qatar

Listening in on conversations on the Stockholm subway, it appears that Arabian revolts of 2011 will be for Al Jazeera what the first Gulf war was for CNN. Suddenly Al Jazeera is a household name, repeatedly referred to by other media outlets and viewed directly by thousands of others through a variety of channels.

And it should not be forgotten that it’s also symbiotic relationship between the world and the people who gets to tell its story. It goes both ways. Just like CNN made the first Gulf war into the type of conflict it became, it is indeed very difficult to see where Al Jazeera end and begin in the recent upheavals. The pan-Arabic protest movements owe a lot to the efficient distribution of news between different parts of the world. Often social media in particular, and the Internet in general, are given a lot of the credit for this (and rightly so!) but the power of television should not be forgotten.

The International Audience
I believe that Al Jazeera’s underdog position and difficulty getting distribution by cable networks, especially in the United States, made them go back to the drawing board to find alternative channels. The result has been to have a great Internet presence, with live-feeds available for viewing on computers and mobile devices. In fact, I find myself tuning into Al Jazeera’s app ever so often for a quick update.

I can only speculate into the reasons for why they seem to gain explosive growth. Primarily, of course, there is the indisputable fact that Al Jazeera’s reporting is second-to-none. With western media houses downsizing it’s not uncommon for them to have only one reporter covering the whole of Africa, for example. Or the entire Middle East. It goes without saying that both coverage and depth will suffer as a result. But, there might also be other, subtler, reasons. At least some people surely appreciate the fresh perspective and the — often quite blatant – western centric worldview that permeate the outlets such as CNN.

Duh, Doha! Protests Heading Here?
With protests spreading like wildfire throughout the Arab world, the inevitable question is what would happen if the revolt would spread to Al Jazeera’s native Qatar. Historically, the TV channel has enjoyed unparalleled freedoms to act independently – compared to the standard in the region, that is. It’s not really saying much, considering.

As rulers topple and falls on top of each other in nearby countries, even Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is bound to be at least a little edgy; however liberal he is, he is far from an elected leader. Would he allow for the channel to cover protests in the same way they did in Tunis or Egypt?

The Emir has given Al Jazeera a very long leech in the past, and even though he is considered a liberal leader, with his eyes set on reforming the status quo, somewhere in the sand there is a red line.

Like in many countries (insert standard caveat that the West is also doing it) the Internet is filtered in Qatar. Mostly the filter is designed to block pornography and alternative critical views on Islam, but a lot of other information is also difficult to access, either by design or mistake. To add insult to injury, another category that is quite tightly regulated is access to censorship circumvention tools, in the likes of Psiphon, TOR and other proxy servers.

One thing that always worries me is state control over central data exchanges, and Qatar, though its national telecommunications company Qtel, is no different.

By centralizing exchange though a single point there’s always the temptation to tamper with the data, simply because it’s easy to do it. Pulling the plug on the Internet is infinitely harder if there’s a plethora of exchanges, each operating independently of one another. If pushed into a corner, would the Emir use his power to further limit free expression? It’s hardly inconceivable. Would he flick the kill-switch? Probably not. Qatar is a huge economy, with the highest GDP per capita on the planet, and such a country would have a meltdown in a matter of hours following a complete disruption of communications.

Avoiding the FUD
Al Jazeera has matured into a solid product and they’ve proven themselves over and over again in the last 15 years. In the last months their influence have been pivotal the development of a whole region. As with any news organization its motives and loyalties can be questioned – and they should be! Just like we discuss media centralization and ownership in the western sphere. That discussion should not however, spread fear, uncertainty and doubt on whether or not Al Jazeera is a legitimate player in a globalized world.

It only took a few revolutions to prove it.

Censorship and Free Speech17:44, January 28, 2011

The Tunisian manipulation of the login forms on some of the world’s biggest sites could be a much needed wakeup call for more a more security aware approach to internet-based communication. The hack, if that’s an appropriate word in this context, potentially allowed the Tunisian government to get access to the private communication of hundreds of thousands of users – in the midst of violent nationwide protests.

One of the worst things that can happen to people protesting against an oppressive regime is to have their adversaries spying on them. Some information is by nature public, such as twitter feeds – and nobody should be surprised that governments are monitoring that information. But, there’s also tons of private correspondence, where the sender might be less careful with keeping their identity hidden. Think email, Facebook messages and closed groups.

The Tunisian case is, as far as I know, the only example we have where we have actual code to analyze. But without doubt, the method has been used before by other entities: whoever has control over a network, can insert malicious scripts as easily as child’s play. If you target the attack to only affect a smaller number of people – or even one specific individual – the chances of getting caught are very, very slim.

Most seem to be agreeing that the government instigated the Tunisian hack. The timing would certainly suggest so. The code however, bears no mark of a bureaucratic pen. Quite the opposite, actually.

The script that was inserted has some interesting traits. For some reason, the developer chose to name the functions using Leetspeak. We can find hAAAQ3d (hacked), wo0dh3ad (woodhead), us3r (user), pa55 (pass), h6h (hash) and inv0k (invoke) in right there in the code.

Leetspeak, the habit of replacing some characters with a digit (or other symbol), is a cliché of the hacker community. One of the first things you do, if you want to be taken seriously in the hacker underground, is to not speak leet. Yet, for some reason, leet pops up in this of all places.

The only reason I find to explain it is if the Tunisian government was trying to conceal its involvement and overcompensated. Big time.

Digital Culture and Free Speech12:31, November 18, 2010

Pentagon, with its newly founded US Cyber Command, is going all-in against an undefined enemy, with fear-mongers on the sidelines crying for blood. The state of the world being as it is, the question is if Wikileaks is going to be the first victim of this new offensive force.

Wikileaks, maybe more than anything else in the last decades, has changed the rules of the game. Whilst using the Internet to anonymously disseminate material is nothing new, the systematic release of classified information is. Quite understandably this is a major concern for the American military might.

Our system, based around the existence of sovereign nation-states has been relatively stable since 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia was signed into effect. It might not be a perfect fit, due to its territorial focus, but it’s the best thing we have to define and manage our world.

War on a Changing Arena
The concept of international security has evolved greatly in the twentieth century, changing from issues around the immediate military needs to a much wider and all-encompassing definition. The older definition is a narrow concept of security, where state actors dealing with military issues – for example the Cold War-era military tension between the west and the east.

A wider use of the term, however, also includes other issue as well as other actors, thus making it possible to, as an example, consider the spread of AIDS, or a coming bird-flu pandemic, to be an integral part of international security. However, the use of a wider definition also found critics among the more traditionalist researchers over a fear that the meaning of the term would be diluted.

While the rest of the world abandoned using the word “cyber” sometime back when Clinton was president – at least when not referring something out of a Bruckheimer movie – this is not true for some military theorists. The idea is that there’s a cyberwar on the just beyond the horizon. Some very loud voices are claiming we’re already knee-deep in it.

Without much public debate, the US Cyber Command began its operations in May of 2010, following a sense of urgency in defense circles of a very real and imminent threat. (Or maybe, as some would put it, there is a lot of money in pushing that agenda.)

The USCYBERCOM shoulder the responsibilities from several other branches of the US forces to “conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries”.

The Press as a Pillar of a Free Society
Wikileaks crushed, with a few swift blows, the information monopoly of the military. “Truth”, says Julian Assange, the site’s founder and iconic spokesperson, “is the first casualty of war”, repeating a truism that is rarely backed up with hard evidence. Going through the material, the cliché was proven. Not only did he documents show many things that were never reported, but it also showed outright lies and distortions.

With a very broad definition of security, the free press will be at stake. It goes without saying that exposing certain truths about how we wage wars; on the justifications or actions of troops, is a security problem for the military – and the long run, also for society. But, wait, why if so, do democracies have a free press?

The free press was created, in the liberal western world, as a vent. When the reformists set out to create a new egalitarian society, they deemed it necessary to protect the people from the state. One way to achieve this was by giving the people a way to scrutinize those in power.

Historically, one could blame the press for many wrongs, but at the same time they must be commended for being pivotal in many of the biggest shifts we’ve had every since: from the abolition; universal suffrage; the civil rights movement, to; Watergate. Without overstating the importance of a free press, it’s quite clear that corruption is much more common where the press cannot oversee, comment and criticize people in power. The vent is needed to protect the society from itself.

For the people being scrutinized however, the press can be a real pain in the ass. Consider for a moment the Vietnam War, where journalists had quite good access to the battlefield – and to the soldiers. The stories, images and films are to numerous to mention. It pretty much blew up in the face of the military. It was impossible to keep the general public at home in favor of a war that didn’t portray the solders like heroes, but rather the opposite.

Looking back it’s tempting to say that it seems like it’s impossible to win a war if you are not allowed to commit atrocities. But, the problem is that the people don’t like atrocities. They especially don’t like to see dead children when they’re having breakfast. So, the military came up with a new plan. Starting with the second Gulf War they embedded the journalists systematically.

By doing so, they could control what happened, the journalists were spoon fed information and given selective access. As an added bonus it experiences showed that the embedded journalists became surprisingly favorable to their embedders.

Controlling information and spinning events became paramount to keep be able to maintain support at home. And support at home is a prerequisite to keep fighting. So, the part of the mission is to always make sure the military is in control of the setting, because the context will decide how people perceive events. The war must be justified – and justification can be spun. At least, it could.

War is Peace
Richard Clarke, former advisor to the White House and author of the book Cyberwar, proves my point already in the title of his book. “War” is diluted to the extreme. His book has been widely criticized for being dishonest in many of its descriptions of supposed examples of cyberwar.

Clarke tells a story about a dystrophic future where Chinese hackers take down the Pentagon’s networks, trigger explosions at oil refineries, release chlorine gas from chemical plants, disable air traffic control, cause trains to crash into each other, delete all data held by the federal reserve and major banks, then plunge the country into darkness by taking down the power grid from coast-to-coast. Thousands die immediately. Cities run out of food, ATMs shut down, looters take to the streets. Sound familiar? You’ve probably seen the plot in some bad movie.

Even Clarke descriptions of historic events are flawed. Just five minutes on the Intertubes would have given Clarke better explanations: He claims the Slammer worm was responsible for the blackout in northeast of US of 2003. The Energy Department concluded otherwise. A power outage in Brazil is also attributed to a hacker when, in reality, it was sooty insulators that was to blame.

The danger is to attribute everything from teenage hacking to industrial espionage to “war”. War, at least as most of us perceive it, is a premeditated act from a state-actor, not acts of autonomous people or groups.

Just like the War on Terror before it, the term Cyberwar is not coherent. The objectives are unclear – so the war can never be won. There is no last battle.

There’s a dark side to this new rhetoric. It makes us think of war as a natural state: we’re always at war; war is all around us. It makes us think of peace as an anomaly. It implies a low-intensity war that becomes part of the fabric of our society – and makes us accept fear and suspicion as a part of every day life.

Wikileaks in the Crossfire
The introduction of a new domain for warfare is a premeditated aggressive move. The big question is how it is going to be used, and what doctrine will limit its application. And, how will other countries will react to network attacks by conducted by a nation-state.

Wikileaks is clearly a threat to the military, in their view. Remember the vague scenarios described by Clarke. Wikileaks, even though it is only the messenger – in the same way that newspapers were when it published the Pentagon Papers – has attracted attention from the power structures, and they’re not happy.

Julian Assange has been portrayed as an enemy of the state, responsible for jeopardizing the security of thousands of US servicemen. Of course, the fact that he caught the military with its pants down isn’t helping him. The action could, from the American perspective to be a defensive move, to protect national secrets to be blown out of the water.

One possible scenario is that Wikileaks gets attacked, in order to take it down. Beside it being a practical impossibility to take all the copies of the material down (simply due to the nature of the Internet), what would be the implications if USCYBERCOM attempted to bring the main site offline? At least parts of the site is hosted in Sweden, and to make things even more complex, Wikileaks are possibly even hosted under the protection of a political party with representation in the European parliament.

An attempt to bring the site down would be a clear breach of international law, and of Sweden’s sovereignty. It would also be a carte blanche for a whole new doctrine in international affairs, and essentially undermine the Westphalian system.

The principle of freedom of information is very important to treasure. It dictates that while we can punish the Daniel Ellsbergs and the Bradley Mannings of the world for leaking classified information, we cannot prosecute those who simply distribute, print or discuss the leaked material.

It would also be an all-out War on Journalism. And then we have to ask ourselves: how may people have died in wars defending that very freedom we now wage a war to destroy?

(Thanks to: Copyriot, DN)

Free Speech22:12, September 28, 2010

Hossein Derakhshan, aka Hoder, who’ve been in held in custody since November 2008 without trial, received his sentence today. On charges the of collaborating with enemy states, propagating against the Islamic Republic, propaganda in support of counter-revolutionary groups, “insulting what is holy” and creating immoral websites, Derakhshan received a total of 19-and-a-half years in jail – plus a five-year ban on political and journalistic activities.

A Man With a Mission
I had the opportunity to meet Derakhshan, during a conference here in Stockholm in February of 2006 – and for a brief coffee, the day after, at the Stockholm train station. I was about to go to Iran to write my masters thesis, and he took the time to answer some of my questions. He was a man on a mission – that much was clear. There was something death defying in how he went about his business; he charged like an express train towards one of the most ruthless regimes on the planet, seemingly without fear. I was grateful, though. He bestowed me with some of his courage, and I went to Iran with less on my shoulders.

An Unlikely Country
Derakhshan has been credited with creating the Iranian blogosphere, which was extremely vibrant in the mid-00’s – some years before other countries caught up. And although his claim-to-fame as the blog father might well be exaggerated, it is clear that he did play a vital role, not only within the country but also internationally. He put Iran, unlikely as it was, in the middle of the blog hype. A country best known for oppression was suddenly on the leading edge.

Friends and Enemies
In the years between I met him and his arrest, he made both friends and enemies. And as his activities, ideas and ideology shifted throughout the years, some of his friends also became enemies. Sadly, it would become very obvious that very few of his enemies became his friends. Regardless, the new situation means we need to put aside such differences and back him up. Hoder do not belong in jail. Neither do any of the other Iranian political prisoners.

Act Now!
So what can you do to help him? This will probably evolve as time goes by, but right now it seems like Facebook might be the first step in a campaign that will most definitely deepen as time pass. There’s a group created in his support, and joining will hopefully keep you updated on any new events.

Best point of contact right now, and a sure source for regular and accurate updates is Cyrus Farivar, an American-Iranian journalist and author, that keeps in close contact with Derakhshan’s family.

Free Speech02:40, January 10, 2006

After several American companies have been exposed when doing questionable business with repressive governments, Reporters Without Borders are proposing an ethical standard to be imposed on companies doing technology-related business with such nations. The companies should, among other things, be forced to incorporate a white-list of words – such as democracy or human rights, one would presume – that are rendered impossible to censor.

The argument is that the Yahoo’s and the Google’s was spawned out of – and thus are the products of – an environment where speech is free, and that such companies should not be allowed to make a buck by helping governments to deny that freedom from others.

In general terms, I think this is a terrific idea. Or rather – there shouldn’t even be a discussion: the companies themselves should shun business like this like the black plague. But I agree with Rebecca MacKinnon – it should, if at all possible, be resolved without involvement from government or the international community. It should be in the companies’ interest not to be perceived as money-hungry capitalists without conscience by their customers.

However, humor me for a second and consider the academic argument. This problem is a very good example of the inherent problem with an open society. If everybody is allowed to do whatever they want, manufacture whatever they want, trade with whomever they chose – eventually someone’s going to do something stupid, right? There can be no way of stopping that (…and if we could, or would, stop it – would society still be really free?).

My thoughts also linger on the practicalities behind the idea of a universal consensus around democratic principle. What is tolerated in a democracy is always defined within some kind of envelope, and what falls outside those invisible borders are not set in stone. Does not China, for example, have the same right to decide what threatens their society as the USA does? Just fifty years ago, America was witch-hunting communists because the American government believed there was a threat to the society, and today western governments see terrorists everywhere ? and are combating them with any means necessary. Wire-taps and data retention are just a few of the artifacts created by our open society as of late. And in Sweden, the police provides ISP’s with an IP-list to content we can’t tolerate within our open and democratic society. See, the envelope exists even here. We’re just so much closer to it.

This is, without doubt, not as easy as it seems – even though I firmly believe companies like Fortinet, known for trading with Burma, should seize their activities and adopt a voluntary code-of-conduct. By the way, does anybody know if there are ethical investment funds that screen for this kind of behavior?

Censorship and Free Speech00:58, December 5, 2005

I don’t want to be overly dystrophic, but these are dark days for free speech. Internet filtering is becoming increasingly common in the world, the regimes are getting better at it and the schemes harder to circumvent.

This is where Tor, an EFF supported project, comes in. It is what’s called an onion router that obscures communication by letting the data pass through several nodes in encrypted form. Using the Tor network, a user in, say, China, can access sites without ever getting caught by the government. People can blog and participate in the public sphere without leaving much trace.

Reporters sans fronti?res have a handy chapter in their publication Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, which explain the end-user benefits and the technical background using simple, pain English.

Not only people living in countries we westerners normally consider repressive, can benefit from this technology. Even in countries like my native Sweden, the police are maintaining a list of sites that ISP’s are “recommended” to block (link in Swedish). Today, the blocks are used only to fight child pornography – a noble cause indeed – but even the existence of such a system and the power of whatever outbreak of moral panic we might come across in the future is a recipe for disaster. History has numerous examples of when free speech gets threatened by short-term public opinion.

Another threat is the new data retention initiative from the European Union, already ratified in Sweden, also threatens the access to information and the right to free speech by keeping record for several years of all calls made, e-mail’s and internet sites visited.

A solution to all these problems is to hide – and hide well. To help facilitate this I set up a Tor-server today, and donate a chunk of my available bandwidth to those in need.

Censorship and Free Speech03:34, September 15, 2005

Reporters sans frontiéres (RSF), or Reporters Without Borders, have released a publication they call a Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents. No less than 88 pages thick, the report offer an excellent introduction to blogging, personal accounts from people all over the world and a guide to be anonymous on the internet.

It’s most definitely an interesting read, and probably something I would recommend to anyone who wants to know more about grassroot journalism and internet in countries where speech is not quite-so-free.

However, I ask myself whom RSF identify as their proposed readers: while it is indeed an interesting read for me, will it ever get in the hands of those who really need it? If someone were clever enough to outsmart the Great Firewall of China and access the PDF – would you really need the step-by-step guides on setting up a blog? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Even if it’s just about raising awareness in the western world, it’s justified I my book.

Digital Culture and Free Speech23:45, May 15, 2005

Every once in a while a text comes along that in an oh-so-simple, and just plain elegant, way explain a complicated phenomenon. If you’ve ever tried to tell a friend why you are so fascinated by new media participation (come on – I know you have!), and felt that the look they gave you back was one of complete confusion (come on – I know they did!) you know exactly what I mean.

Lance Knobel of davosnewbies posted a lecture he held a few days ago with the title Nullius in verba: navigating through the new media democracy, that truly is one for the books. Using historical accounts and parallels this is a wonderful introductory text on the subject.

Just print and hand out to all your friends. It will save you time. Believe me.

Censorship and Free Speech00:11, May 3, 2005

Today, the 3rd of May, Internews celebrates the World Press Freedom Day with a photo essay.

Some truly extraordinary photos – and stories – of people who appreciate even the simplest of media technologies. In the future, when I get upset about something silly, like non-conforming RSS-implementations or whatever, I think I’ll just have a look at these pictures and try to appreciate the freedom and the things I take for granted.

Censorship and Free Speech and Iran23:57, February 22, 2005

Arash Sigarchi, 28, was earlier today sentenced to 14 years of prison, according to The Committee to Protect Bloggers. His crime? Well, apparently he updated a blog with information about more than 20 Internet journalists who had been jailed by the Iranian government.

BBC quotes a spokesperson for Amnesty International commented: “Just as the internet is a tool for freedom, so it is being used as an excuse for repression. […] It is also shocking to realise that in the communications age just expressing support for an internet activist is enough to land people in jail.”

My question: Where does this fit in? Propaganda?

Free Speech and Iran23:54, January 23, 2005

Hoder, an Iranian blogger based in Canada, reported yesterday about how American companies are shutting down Iranian websites – amongst them blogs.

The latest site to be shut down, with very short notice, is the Iranians Students News Agency (ISNA) who’ve been given 48 hours by their host, The Planet, to remove their content before getting shot from the sky.

The idea is that, according to the US State Department, the Iranian government supports international terrorism. This is also why many US-based registrars, deny Iranians to register Internet domains.

This seems like an utterly stupid practice, if you ask me. There are many forces at work within the Iranian society in favour of changing the system. Cutting people off from the Internet, one of the most promising ways to encourage debate and free exchange of ideas we’ve seen in the history of mankind, can only be contraproductive.

So, all you bloggers in Iran – if you ever need a host in another country, consider Sweden. I promise you that I can have you set up (and probably even sponsored) in a matter of hours.

Digital Culture and Free Speech21:42, January 3, 2005

If you, like me, could not attend the Votes, Bits & Bytes conference at Harvard Law School last month, you’ll be pleased to know that Rebecca MacKinnon (blog) and radio producer Benjamen Walker have made a 12 minute radio program covering the event.

The show concentrates on the part of the event called Global Voices, focusing on how Internet have influenced politics around the world.

I was glad to learn that it the conference was indeed trying to be international in scope, not just the same western-oriented yada-yada we usually hear. They also discussed a particular detail I’d like to know more about: an Iraqi organization that offers blogging tools to individuals, but only if they agree with current political developments. What’s up with that?

Download MP3 Stream

Free Speech and ICT4D23:57, November 15, 2004

Internews, an international non-profit organization that supports open media worldwide, just released their 2004 Annual Report. Quite an interesting read for anyone interested in efforts to increase participation and enable a public sphere in developing countries.

Considering the recent Afghan election, I think Internews activities in Afghanistan is worthy of special a special mention. Working primarily with the medium of radio (due to a very low literacy rate), Internews is trying to increase political awareness among the citizens, as well as providing other programming. (One of their radio programmes for children Shahrak Atfal, became so popular that a TV-station relayed the audio feed on TV.)

Censorship and Free Speech18:09, November 5, 2004

OpenNet Initiative provide a great starting point for anyone who’s interested in the legal implications for Internet filtering.

[…] While filtering regimes have a tremendous effect on issues such as civil liberties, international jurisdictional matters, and Internet governance, there are few established mechanisms for review and reform of Internet censorship. The paper highlights the importance of transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness in order to maintain a reliable, efficient, and global medium for communication. (PDF)

Free Speech22:24, October 27, 2004

Election night in the US is just a few days away and the Americans will cast their votes and decide who will be given four years of being the most powerful man on the planet. Ever been curious how the outcome would be if the entire world were allowed to vote? Participate on The World Speaks where everyone has a say. Someone commented: It’s a great idea; let’s help the americans figure out who their next president should be – God knows America often “help” in presidental elections in other countries.

Election 2004: “The World Speaks”

Digital Culture and Free Speech22:22, October 26, 2004

The Internet was created to be a synchronous medium, just like Sturken and Cartwright point out. What that means in practice, is that whoever can receive also can transmit, unlike for example television. In effect – anybody with an Internet connection can become a reporter and publish news and articles without the hassle of printing and distributing atoms, or investing hugely in the infrastructure needed to broadcast television.

What’s in a Name
In Sweden, which will serve as my example here, the market for Internet broadband is moving away from empowering the users with the possibility to broadcast. There are two primary ways of getting broadband access today; first, through optical fiber which is a quite expensive solution since quite extensive modifications to the infrastructure is needed, both the building and the apartments; secondly, broadband access can be provided through the ordinary phone lines. The latter is by far the more common method, and most often utilize ADSL-technology to achieve its goal.

The design flaw, and the inconsistency to Sturken’s a Cartwright’s ideal, is actually right there in the name: ADSL is an acronym for Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line. What this mean is that the rate of which users can receive data is much higher than the rate they can send at. The ratio between the two can be as high as 30/1 (28 mbps downstream and 0,8 mbps upstream). However, there are alternative technologies (such as VDSL) that enable true synchronous transfers, but none of the Swedish Internet provides are offering such a service to the market, and those who did are gradually replacing the technology. This is, the providers’ claim, because that too few customers requested the feature.

Without being overly conspiratory, I would like to raise the question whether is possible that there is indeed a strategy behind these choices of technology. The phone companies have since a few years stopped being just providers of an information service, to actually wanting to provide and sell content for the networks. Is it really in their best interest as content merchants, to enable others to easily distribute content on the net?

The Swedish market does not (yet) show the same degree of synergetic mergers of companies as in the US, so lets consider the American example for a while (2001:317). Road Runner, one of the world’s biggest broadband providers is owned by the Time Warner Inc., who in turn own dozens of newspaper, radio stations and movie studios.

In the rapidly changing landscape of digitalization, and as more and more services anticipated to be provided through the broadband connection; fixed line telephony, radio, television, pay-per-view movies and music to name but a few, the apparent risk is that the consumers will, one again, be turn in to passive receivers of information without possibility of a feedback-channel. The effects of increased democratization would evaporate in thin air.

» Sturken M. & Cartwright L. (2001) Practices of Looking – An Introduction to Visual Cultures, Oxford: Oxford University Press