2012 has been quite the year for the internet – it seemed to be attacked on by all sides and made many foes in the United States and the E.U. It saw the rise of the internet vigilantes Anonymousas they dealt killing blows to ACTA and SOPA. Indeed, it seemed 2012 was a case of Politicians vs. Internet Freedom, yet despite SOPA and ACTA being buried and (hopefully) dead – the internet is still beset upon by those who wish to take away the last truly free place we as human beings can access.
Very recently I began to observe the work of Access, this is a global movement dedicated to ensuring ‘digital freedom’ is maintained – and I began to realise just how much governments try to close off or regulate internet access to their citizens. For instance, in the Philippines it is possible to get arrested for doing something as meagre as liking a status or retweeting a message – for a maximum of twelve years. Thus, the issue of internet freedom is still very much a real, and for some, dangerous issue – it seems that dictatorial governments can see the internet as an way to extend their suppressive ways, a kind of cyber martial law.
Indeed, one only has to look at the effects a suppressed internet can have – it can effectively close off a nation from the outside world. North Korea has a heavily regulated internet, only the likes of scientists, politicians and academics have access to it, and even then only to a select few sites. It allows their government to carry on promoting their personality cult whilst the citizens remain ignorant. If North Korea opened access to the internet for its citizens – imagine what would happen. It would be akin to having one’s eyes opened for the first time. Thus, the internet isn’t as meagre as we think; it is one of the most powerful tools the world has at its disposal.
Although at first glance, it is easy to remain oblivious to the true uses of the internet – amongst all the LOLCats and Slender-man videos it could be easily argued that the internet is just a glorified entertainment medium – but it’s much more powerful than that. The whole Occupy movement was orchestrated through social media, so were the clean up to the London riots. It’s allowed people to connect across the world – share knowledge, reveal corruption and ensure governments are accounted for what they do. Despite some of the darker sides of the internet, it’s important that it remains unregulated. For every new meme, there’s something uncovered on Wikileaks, for every new video of a panda sneezing, there’s a campaign gathering momentum through the internet. Whilst it can be used for some incredibly dark purposes, it can be used to do things on a scale a person couldn’t have imagined a mere 20 years ago.
With 2013 just around the corner, I expect the battle for the Internet will still be raging – maybe not from the U.S or the E.U – I believe they’ve learnt their lesson- but it will still be fought in the likes of China and Russia where it is threatened – and it’s important that we don’t remain oblivious to it. The internet can be used ensure areas like Syria, or Israel and Palestine aren’t kept in the dark from the rest of us – and ensures that all governments, across the world, cannot operate on unlawful terms. It’s a powerful area – and it must be kept completely free.
By Rory Claydon
For more information on Internet freedom and where its being threatened – please see: https://www.accessnow.org/