In this précised version of his dissertation Tom Chatwin explores freedom of Internet communications. The article calls on western governments to reveal the degree of internet regulation as well as urging the New Generation to rethink censorship so as to benefit humanity as a whole rather than individual states.
With the internet comes a promise of freedom. Yet this is derived from a complex and almost unfathomable entity. It has no physical presence, and yet requires a physical infrastructure, it is outside the bounds of any previous medium, and yet is restricted by our communicative ability. It encroaches into all areas of life, Music, Science, Literature, Politics, not to mention the influence on computing itself. This freedom affects the New Generation. We need to understand the most important how’s, why’s and what if’s of the internet. We need to be able to grasp the concepts of this phenomenon, so that we can know both what has happened and how best to control it in the course of our future.
It is to the benefit of all that the internet should be kept free from state control. Allowing people to speak and communicate, they can develop ideas, make governments more accountable, create new forms of technology or ideas, and become better informed about the world around them. Think of those cyber-dissidents that live under corrupt regimes and speak out to the rest of the world of their plight for just one of any number of examples of the internet bringing a voice to those who might otherwise be oppressed.
Yet this freedom so desired by the founders of the internet has never truly existed. As with anything the internet can be used towards both good and bad ends. Absolute freedom on the internet would not only allow for the positives such as free discussion and debate but the negatives of hate speech, blackmail, libel, and incitement to cause harm. Beyond this, the ability of individuals to maliciously access other peoples computers and documents and their ability to spread malware creates a darker side to the internet.
Many governments see the harm that can be caused; both to their own citizens and to the state and so choose to regulate the internet. While many know of and see the control exercised on the internet by states such as China, they do not realise the extent of censorship and control in other states such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Where must the line be drawn in this matter? Are these states simply exercising their legitimate sovereign rights over their own areas of land or are their motives darker and more sinister?
As with anything this cannot be answered in absolutes. There is a difference between responsible and irresponsible government, and there is a difference between regulations that harm and regulations that help. The Internet must be regulated so as to prevent real world harm, and to prohibit material that is unquestionably illegal. The key example of this is child pornography which cannot be justified. But there are lines that must be drawn. Vietnam claims that its censorship of the Internet is to stop indecent material, but censors much more material relating to the one party state. Governments must be accountable and must turn and face their citizens and tell them what they control and why. This would be the behaviour of a legitimate and representative government, and yet this rarely happens.
States must chose between the possibilities of blocking access to more sites that they intended, including some that may be innocent, and not blocking enough so some illegitimate ones go uncontrolled. On top of this the changing and malleable nature of the internet means that even the best forms of control are eventually bypassed. This means that the naïve interpretation that complete control is possible should be dropped but not attempts at some form of control.
When content can be accessed globally should it matter when a site, legal where it has been put online, is accessed in another state where it is illegal? Yes, because this draws our attention to the very nature of the laws in question and asks why are they different, and why are they justified. What occurs when a hacker from one country accesses and damages computers situated in another? They must be brought to account for the real world harm caused and this means that governments must work harder than ever in the spectrum of cooperation. And what implication does this have for state sponsored cyber-warfare? As an International phenomenon, it must be dealt with on an international level. Freedoms should be instituted in a manner that benefits humanity and not individuals or states. Cyber-warfare is no different from conventional warfare and must be avoided, monitored and controlled. For all these points I believe the UN must have a greater role and it must recognise the changes that this medium can and will bring to the New Generation.
What does this all mean to us? It has been in our lifetimes that the internet has flourished. Its early commercial success occurred in the nineties, now we use it regularly, for information, for jobs, for our education, shopping, and all number of social reasons. The New Generation is the internet generation and it is not going to go away. If the internet revives the anarchic freedoms envisioned by its founders then it will happen in our lifetimes. If the internet becomes one that is over controlled by States and where the freedoms of speech and expression are excessively curbed it will occur as we watch.
Many arguments look at the potentials that the internet creates, whether this is to create havoc or to bring beneficial developments and change. These potentials are our future. It draws our attention to arguments for and against privacy. It asks us to what extent we value freedom of speech and expression. It looks to us to see where our limits of tolerance lie. For anyone who wishes to be heard or give an opinion, the internet is the perfect medium.
To people who are concerned with their own liberties, do you know how, why and to what extent the internet where you are accessing it from is controlled, monitored and censored? For these reasons understanding the internet is important, it affects us all, and will continue to do so for a long time. We however should have a say in how it affects us today, and how it will affect us tomorrow.