Keeping the Internet Open

Just went to a very interesting talk by Ross Lajeunesse (HEad of Public policy and gov’t affairs for Google).
Once again the importance of an ‘open’ Internet became clear.

Openness resides in the very nature of the Internet. Ever since its conception (eg. use to interconnect universities networks) it has been a tool to communicate freely, without anyone controlling. Nowadays more and more governments (especially those who are used to exercise control on national media) around the globe get frightened of the power that this ‘Internet’ entails. According to the speaker there are 40 governments today that censor the Internet in some way. This goes from Youtube blocking to filter search results or secretly access citizens’ emails. Especially the – strongly criticized – Green Dam initiative by the Chinese government, which implies the installation of censoring software on every Chinese computer, is a mind-blowingly deterrent example.  Still, in most countries the openness of the Internet allows people to access any type of information in a matter of seconds, anywhere and anytime. At the same time, the Internet allows people to share any kind of information on a global level. And this, without to pass publishers, producers, or any other kind of intermediary who decides on what is, and what is not worthy to be made public. Through the Internet, people all around the world can reach potentially all the world. The grade of dispersion will solely depend on the (quality/success of the) shared information itself. Not on an arbitrary decision made by an intermediary. In this last way, the Internet not only risks to be cuffed by the government but also by a variety of different actors. Copyright holders to name one. The ease of sharing information on the Internet obviously also allows the unauthorized sharing of copyrighted materials on a large scale. Obviously, technology should be appreciated upon its merits. The free flow of information on the Internet shouldn’t therefore, be restricted to (among others) allow copyright holders of protecting their rights.
An open Internet can contribute to better living/working circumstances (eg. workers who organize through the Net in countries where unions are forbidden), and also to a healthier functioning economy, providing full transparency and user information. It is therefore to be encouraged that governments embrace this medium instead of fighting it (see recent example of President Chavez who stopped blocking Twitter and instead created his own account. Now he has almost 900.000 followers!).

Briefly. The free flow of information is a condicio sine qua non of the Internet as we know it today. If we want to keep living the way we do today, it is absolutely necessary we resist every attempt by power-holders to expand their control over (some parts of) the Internet.

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