In about an hour from now (2pm local time), I'll be participating in in a seminar sponsored by the Dutch NGO Hivos titled Expression Under Repression. Click here for the schedule and location. There has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about whether we would be allowed to proceed. Yesterday our sponsors were told that the Tunisian authorities deemed our seminar's title to be incompatible with the conference's theme of ICT for Development, and that it might be cancelled. Then after some high-level negotiations the seminar was back on. Then this morning there was a sign outside our seminar room saying the event was cancelled. After more protests by our sponsors, the sign was removed.
If you are at WSIS and want to attend, the seminar room is very close to the Hivos stand in the ICT4Development area. Expo2 no.3103
I'll be giving a keynote. Below is what I have written up in preparation, and is roughly what I plan to say.
Meanwhile, please be sure to check out Ethan Zuckerman's excellent writeup of the alternative citizens' summit held by Tunisian democracy activists in downtown Tunis last night.
"Expression Under Repression" keynote
A powerful shift has taken place in the information
society. I believe that this shift is so
powerful and so important that I left a good job as a correspondent for CNN in
order to work in service of the emerging citizens' media movement.
Until recently, the only way an American or Dutch person could know what a Tunisian, or a Chinese or a Zimbabwean person thinks (unless they are incredible world travelers) was through people like me. A journalist like myself would have to interview them and put their quotes in a newspaper or their soundbites on TV. The only way for a person in one part of China to know what was going on in another part, or for a Zimbabwean to know what's going on in the neighboring town was either through media - or physical word of mouth.
Now anybody can use the internet - set up a weblog, post information on bulletin boards, upload photos to photosharing sites - and speak directly to the world. The same tools also enable people to communicate more freely with their own countrymen - without going through media filters.
The right of people around the globe not only to speak but
also to be heard is vital if we are to achieve a more equitable global
information society. It is something that must be fought for.
The obstacles are not only government repression - but also commercial interests that have determined that the voices of some people in certain parts of the world have greater value than the voices of others.
Social entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations have
our work cut out for us if we want to help everybody on this planet exercise
their right to speak and be heard.
[SLIDE] Global Voices Online - a project co-founded by
myself and my colleague Ethan Zuckerman - is one small effort to track and call
attention to the citizens' voices everywhere except the
As we link to bloggers around the world, we find that people
writing from some countries, such as
Also during today's seminar, Nart Villeneuve of the Open Net Initiative will explain how governments filter and censor the internet.
[SLIDE] I am also pleased to announce here today Nart and
his colleagues have just completed a detailed study on how the Tunisian
government filters the internet. They made a number of findings. They have
confirmed that Tunisian filtering and censorship focuses on political content.
They also determined that Tunisian censorship comes to us courtesy of an American technology company, Secure Computing, and its filtering tool Smartfilter.
[SLIDE] This is the webpage for the Civil Society Summit
which non-governmental groups tried to organize in parallel to this event, and
which finally succeeded in holding a meeting yesterday afternoon.
[SLIDE] Thanks to Smartfilter, and the Tunisian internet
censors, this is what the webpage looks to an internet user in
Not to single out
[SLIDE] This is what the Great Chinese Firewall looks like from inside of China - which according to my more technical colleagues at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the Open Net Initiative, has the world's most comprehensive and sophisticated system of internet censorship and control.
Why is all of this important? There are some who have questioned whether
the title of this seminar, "Expression under Repression," is compatible
with the the purpose of this conference, ICT for Development. We believe that
the two are very much linked.
In this rapidly changing modern world, long-term improvement of the living standards for the men and women of this earth, requires more than just handing technology to people and telling them what to do with it.
Advanced societies today require innovation and invention.
The lessons of development aid over the past several decades have shown that the most effective development programs are those which empower citizens to help themselves and improve their lives by finding unique solutions to their problems based on local conditions.
Without freedom to access and transmit information, such empowerment is difficult.
Some governments would argue that the freedom to communicate
and receive economic and business information is sufficient, and that other
forms of information can be tightly restricted. They argue that it is in the
interest of social stability to do so.
But when a tightly-controlled government press is forbidden to report information about the outbreak of an epidemic, as happened in
The villagers of Taishi in
These examples of repression I cite are taking place in non-democratic, developing nations. But of us who come from the West, from countries that we call democratic, should not sit back in self-satisfied complacency. We should not take the position of smugly lecturing our Chinese, Tunisian, and Iranian friends. Our own freedom of expression - and freedom to access the information we need in order to maximize our own well being - is also under threat at home.
In public libraries and public schools in the
To demand zero filtering is probably not the answer. Filtering technologies are necessary to protect our networks from spam and viruses, and to protect our young children from pornography, and in some cases our teenagers from irresponsible incitement to violence.
However we must demand GLOBALLY that when filtering is done,
it must be done openly and accountably. We must demand that technology companies must openly declare what they
are doing and how they are doing it, so that citizens can make informed
decisions about what technologies and services they rely upon. We must demand
that governments at very least make their filtering policies public,
transparent and accountable. Not only the Tunisian government and the Chinese
government, but also the governments of
If we want a world of informed and empowered citizens, this is a must.
Before we launch in to our next panel, we will ask Nart
Villneuve of the ONI to come up and tell us a little more about the