In early July we witnessed an attempt at the UN Human Rights Council to make this live dissemination an international legal norm. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt spearheaded a bill on Internet freedom referred to the council by six countries, including Turkey (yes, Turkey), stressing that the draft was endorsed by overwhelming support and that the six countries proposing the bill represented a truly global alliance.
It was difficult to verify the reality of that alliance between Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the US. Despite commonly held views, the US does not have a bright record on Internet freedom. But it is nice to see that Tunisia, which was listed in the same category with China, Iran and North Korea during the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali era, is now included in this coalition. In reference to Turkey, I cannot help wondering whether they were aware of what they undersigned, because the first three provisions in the resolution are as follows:
1. Affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
2. Recognizes the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms;
3. Calls upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries;
This intergovernmental initiative is of course important, but the call posted on www.internetdeclaration.org/freedom as a civilian initiative, which makes reference to five plain principles, is even more important. These are freedom of expression, access, openness, innovation and privacy.
Now let us take a look at where we are in terms of the Internet and communication freedom. The 2012 report on Internet freedom by Reporters Without Borders (www.rsf.org) lists Turkey as one of the countries under surveillance, one group up from countries hostile to the Internet. The report notes that a number of Internet sites are banned in Turkey, and that there are frequent attempts to filter content. It further states that Internet users in Turkey, due to such bans or filters, have developed campaigns against hidden and indirect censorship. The most accurate information on Internet limitations and restrictions (over 20.000 sites as of this week) in Turkey is posted at www.engelliweb.com. When “national security,” “public order,” “general morality” and “indivisibility of the state and the nation” are the criteria for blocking a website, it is difficult to have broader freedoms indeed.
In the report, Turkey is grouped with Australia, Egypt, Eritrea, France, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. This means that these states are not big supporters of Internet freedom.
In addition to plain prohibitions on some Internet content, there are now subtle attempts to achieve the same result through free market methods. One such attempt is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was raised by a Republican member in the US House of Representatives and attracted fury.
A similar proposal was referred to the European Parliament in early July and rejected. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) holds service providers responsible for violations committed by users and seeks to control the illegal downloading and sharing of video, film and music. The bill also requires service providers to hand the personal information of violators to the relevant authorities.
When you take a look at the supporters of such attempts, you will see that old or established industries are in favor of such restrictions, whereas new industries are opposed to them. Indeed, the Internet is not just a communication tool now. Jeremy Rifkin, whose insights into the future I value, makes the following prediction on the Internet model: “Today, Internet technology and renewable energies are about to merge to create a powerful new infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) that will change the world in the 21st century. In the coming era, hundreds of millions of people will produce their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories and share it with each other in an ‘energy Internet,’ just like we now generate and share information online.” For once a bright prospect; if only the powerful of this world don’t slow it down.