Originally published: May 22, 2011
Last updated: May 22, 2011 - 6:03pm
A promise the White House made in the cyberspace strategy released May 16 encouraging "people all over the world to use digital media to . . . share information . . . [and] expose corruption" indicates the ascendancy of a camp inside the Obama administration that favors making a priority of Internet freedom, experts say.
President Barack Obama reiterated some of those points in a speech May 19 about U.S. policy in the Middle East, saying the United States will support "open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard -- whether it's a big news organization or a blogger." There's been long-standing tension in U.S. foreign policy between officials who see the Internet primarily as a tool for promoting government accountability and an active civil society abroad and those who see it as a threat to other U.S. interests such as a stable copyright regime, according to Robert Guerra, director of the advocacy group Freedom House's Project on Internet Freedom.
Proponents of an open Internet, mostly at the State Department, see it as a tool dissidents can use to organize protests, publicize their missions and communicate with the outside world, Guerra said. That position was reinforced by the recent uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa that were aided by social media. Critics of pure openness, many of them at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, are concerned that an open Internet will undermine intellectual property protections and hamper U.S. exports of items such as DVDs and software, he said.
The problem with that position, Guerra and other Internet freedom advocates say, is that the tools U.S. businesses and others use to prevent would-be infringers from posting copyrighted material online are often the same tools repressive governments use to identify, track, shut down and sometimes arrest and imprison anti-government bloggers and activists.
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