Technologists agree with Clinton, say Internet freedom wins in long run
Here’s what technologists say about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech on Internet freedom: she’s right.
Not only because they agree that cyber hackers should be punished and that censorship is bad. Clinton is correct, they say, that censorship won’t succeed in completely clamping down systems and preventing the exchange of information over the Web. They are only temporary measures and, with just a few exceptions -- North Korea comes to mind -- won’t ultimately win.
The revelation from post-election demonstrations in Iran last summer was that people on the ground found ways around network censors to circulate pictures, videos and Tweets to the rest of the world, says Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter. During the Iranian New Year, a video greeting from President Obama was circulated underground in Tehran and went viral.
“There are always workarounds to everything. Every security in a sense can be taken down given enough time and cleverness and smarts,” Dorsey said in an interview last week. “It’s just constant iterations and just paying attention to new holes that are exposed.”
Dorsey has worked with the State Department’s senior adviser on innovation, Alec Ross, to consult on projects like a campaign in Mexico where citizens can anonymously warn law enforcement officials of drug violence through text messages.
Twitter has been focused on wireless phones – the most popular Internet and communications devices in the developing world – to see how its microblogging site can be used to connect anyone with a phone and a Web browser. Clinton said she sees the 4.6 billion mobile phones in the world as part of her strategy for economic development, preventing violence against women and children, and ending conflict.
After Clinton’s her Internet speech, Microsoft, Yahoo and tech trade groups hailed her push for Internet freedom.
Clay Shirky, a professor of new media studies at New York University and a popular blogger, said countries like China are conflicted. On the one hand, they want to control the information residents receive and send. But on the other hand, they want to encourage the adoption of cellphones, computers and Internet services because those systems fuel economic growth.
China locked down Internet, broadcast and other communications services after earthquakes two years ago, hoping to slow the spread of news that poor school construction contributed to the high death toll, Shirky said. But outraged parents in China still learned of the construction flaws--mere hours or days later than they would have if communications systems were open.
Countries that have a censorship strategy "are suffering from a technological auto-immune disease,” Shirky said. “They are only delaying the spread of media and attacking their own infrastructure.”
January 25, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
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