Internet Freedom where the Internet helped mobilize the masses and contributed to public service journalism and crowdsourcing.

High Noon for Internet Freedom where the Internet helped mobilize the masses and contributed to public service journalism and crowdsourcing.

From the Arab Spring through the OECD year of discontent, the web 2.0 generation is using social media to agitate against the status quo. We see parallels between the economic and political changes that are erupting. As the internet has gone social, discontent has gone viral. Clearly, new technologies of communication are not the cause of discontent. They are giving voice to millions and allowing a new disorganized coming together. New movements, like the platforms and apps that are helping them form, are distributed, loose and struggling to find solid foundation.
As younger citizens demand opportunities, freedoms and change, they are using the definitional new means of communication that we follow at GreenCrest Capital. Our offices are poised on the edge of the protests on Wall Street. At least twice a day I walk through throngs of tourists and protesters. The easiest way to tell them apart is by looking at their personal electronics. The protesters are videotaping and using smart phones and tablets. Blog posts, tweets and Facebook posting brought loose groupings of folks — from great distances — to Liberty Park to protest. Tourists are older, cleaner and more likely to be armed with digital cameras. Drawing a line between the crowds has proven difficult for the police and even protesters. The ranks of the protesters are full of Apple products and citizen journalists.
As this goes to press, leading web 2.0 companies are sponsoring presidential debates, increasing their lobbying and growing their market share in the billions being spent in the lead-up to Decision 2012. On the corporate side, these businesses are emerging as disruptive and transformative. Facebook is ushering a new era of social advertising and issuing its own currency — Facebook credits. This currency may soon be in widespread use by the 800 million and growing “webizens” of the social network. Twitter is emerging as the preferred, personal wire service of journalists and citizen newsmakers. Protesters check into locations on Four Square and use Google Mobile mapping.
Loosely connected, always connected, low cost solutions are sought by citizens, consumers and business. Everyone is trying to do more for less. It is an age of austere opportunity and internet mediated interaction. It is an age of web 2.0. The rapidity and virality of new technology adaptation is being matched by demands for change and growing dissatisfaction. In business and in politics, older structures are yielding to the new. This appears to be true for some dictatorships, inequalities and business models. Brittle business models and high up-front costs are pressured. The democratic process appears to stiff and slow for some.
As deep distress continues to define the material lives of tens of millions in the west, they will search for the new, cool and free. As the middle class emerges in the developing world, they will seek out and adopt the new, cool, liberating technologies that are now affordable and increasingly made at home. This appears to be creating a sweet spot for new platforms, applications and hardware for communications and commerce.

On September 27th, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which includes companies, non-profit groups, academics, engineers, government representatives and ordinary citizens, started in Kenya for 3 days to debate on the hot topic of future of the Internet.

During this United Nations-sponsored event, one workshop is dedicated to defining the fundamental values that inform Internet policy-makers and Internet governance arrangements. Here are some tips from Reporters Without Borders on what should be underscored, and why it matters: Keep it global
More and more countries are building their own Intranets that resemble those of China, Burma or Iran. One factor that is really helping them to do so is the collaboration of Internet companies with repressive regimes worldwide. For example, last May, Nikolay Pryanishnikov, President of Microsoft Russia, declared that now that Microsoft Russia owns Skype in the country, he would give out the Skype codes to the Russian security services if necessary. Microsoft already signed a partnership in China with the search engine Baidu that censors its results. The new players of the World Wide Web — led by Facebook and Twitter — are definitely in the authoritarian regimes’ line of sight. But can key Web actors prevent the Chinese and Russian governments from using their technologies for purposes of political repression? Companies can no longer fight censorship and protect their users’ personal data by acting alone, and government recommendations no longer suffice. If the IGF wanted to make a difference regarding human rights there, it would support and improve publicly what already exists when it comes to companies adopting ethical behaviors.
Keep it neutral Net neutrality is one of the main challenges when it comes to online free speech. Deciding that Internet Service Providers (ISP) can define the content of online access is definitely giving them the opportunity to select what can or can’t be accessed first. Therefore, content cannot be separated from the transmission. This is why the quality of the access is as important as its access. Instead of trying to judge which technology is worse, between accessing a non-neutral (even censored) online content or not accessing anything at all, the IGF should decide upon the ways neutral Internet access can be protected and guaranteed. Keep it real Business and human rights are compatible. Fortunately, some companies have grasped the fact that respecting certain values is not incompatible with an increasing turnover. In March 2010, the GoDaddy Group Inc.announced before the U.S. Congress that it would stop offering its clients new Chinese domain names (ending with the suffix “.cn”) because of drastic censorship measures enforced by local authorities. A few days earlier, Google, outraged over censorship and cyberattacks targeting its users’ e-mail accounts, announced its decision to stop censoring the Chinese version of its search engine, google.cn. Canadian-based RIM, known for its BlackBerry telephones, is attempting to resist pressures from the Saudi and Emirati governments, who want to access the encrypted data sent through the smartphones’ messaging services. But the U.N should first be clear on what the Internet does represent for its members and what should be protected. When Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, published his organization’s report in May 2011, he underlined the Internet as a common space where citizens can exchange their views and virtually gather. As he phrases it, Internet is “acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.” Therefore Internet access should be protected because it is enabling user access a range of rights.
Throughout the Arab Spring, we’ve witnessed a tremendous number of cases where the Internet helped mobilize the masses and contributed to public service journalism and crowdsourcing. Nevertheless, the first move by governments was to shut down the Internet. Should members of the U.N who supported these actions be sanctioned for it? If as it says, the IGF wants to build a “constitutional moment” for the Internet, then it should do a lot more by imposing future ethical regulations on governments who intentions are to muzzle information on the Web and the free flow of information.

Ban them all before the drama plays out again after 60 days. I am sure nobody in this country, which is high on jingoism nowadays, is going to miss them. Most here believe BlackBerry is a device used by gun-toting terrorists. It needs to be monitored. And services like Google and Skype only aid anti-social elements.

Initially, I was quite aghast over the BlackBerry saga. I believe that web and computing devices like smartphones always empower the common man by democratizing information. A ban on certain Blackberry services, I thought, would gain nothing. I imagined it would result in harassment for the average folks, who would not only lose the ability to send messages or corporate mails using a secure gateway but might also have to give up some of their freedoms, like freedom to whisper naughty something into the ears of their partners during a late night call.

All those worries were unfounded. After seeing how a large section of the public reacted to the BlackBerry fiasco, I am sure that if after 60 days Indian government decides to throw Research In Motion out of the country or bans Google, nobody is going to miss them. There is a saying that people get the politicians they deserve. The BlackBerry fiasco proves how true it is in our country. Even tech savvy guys are too dumb to realize that monitoring BlackBerry traffic is not going to accomplish anything other than giving an option to the government for listening into people’s private conversation. It already listens to most cellphone conversations, records internet logs and is now going after the services that have some level of encryption that prevents third parties, governments as well as criminals using packet sniffers, from catching the data as it flies through the interwebs.

A few years ago, the government bought a few devices that could listen into the cellphone conversations within a given area and make recordings of these calls. They were supposed to be deployed in Kashmir so that terrorists could be nabbed. (Sounds familiar?) Last heard, these devices were placed inside some cars roaming the roads of Delhi, snooping on the conversations that politicians were having. When the lid somehow blew, nobody came forward to explain who ordered the snooping and why. Till now, we don’t know how many laws were broken in the process and what was accomplished with this snooping that reportedly went on for years.

But in a country herded round a hysteria of “national interest”, most of us no longer care for something called privacy. In fact, now I am not even sure how people, who want BlackBerry servers opened, will react if tomorrow they pick up the newspaper and read how sleuths listened into corporate czars talking to their wives. Most likely they will voyeuristically lick the details. And get on with their lives, oblivious to the fact that how much they have surrendered in the name of national security.

You may call it a rant. I, for one, don’t care anymore. I don’t use a BlackBerry phone. I use Android, though it may be banned too or at least put under the scanner. There are reports that 3G rollout has been delayed because our government wants cellular operators to put in place infrastructure for monitoring wireless internet. But that is fine. We are a democracy and if, collectively, we are too dumb to realize the importance of something, we don’t deserve it.

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