#13 2014

PEN International's declaration on digital freedom

“PEN recognizes the promise of digital media as a means of fulfilling the fundamental right of free expression.”

Everyone has the right to express themselves freely through the digital media without fear of reprisal or persecution. This is the key message in PEN International’s manifesto which was adopted by the PEN Congress
 in South Korea
 2012. PEN is now taking the battle for freedom of speech to the digital arena.

The Tor project

After a number of years when dictatorships and espionage agencies seemed to take control of the web, we’re now facing a counter movement. Today, we know much more about the reach and effects of ongoing government surveillance, and there is a new

Cat and mouse, dog and Ouroboros

“Dictators learn faster than internet users.” This is the sad view of the future of the internet. But is this actually true? For many years, China has been the prototype for countries trying to control and censor the

The art of creating internet without any internet

In Cuba it is forbidden for citizens to have their own internet connection. If you want to read your e-mail or surf the net, you are directed to use public internet connections in internet cafés, universities or internet

NSA’s espionage can aid dictatorships

At one point it looked like a number of totalitarian states and systems would succeed in closing the door that the internet had opened for freedom of speech. This was met by a new wave of “hacktivism” and software for activists. And with Edward Snowden's disclosures, attention is now turned to the surveillance activities of

To write and to live in the shadow

The first blog was started in Iran in the beginning of 2001. Since then, the blog culture within the country has grown and there are over 70,000 blogs by Iranians, both inside and outside the country. What are these blogs

Heckling the powerful in Belarus

Freedom of speech is greatly limited in Belarus. Since 2006 the country has been included in the Reporters Without Borders’ list of ”Internet enemies.” The Belarusian author and blogger Jauhen Lipkovich describes his experience of

Ten countries where Facebook has been banned

On 4 February 2014, Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary. The social networking giant now has over 1.23 billion users, but there are still political leaders around the world who don't want their country to have access

N’existe Pas

For many years Bruce Sterling has been writing about the battle for freedom on the internet, a subject he first wrote about in the highly acclaimed book The Hacker Crackdown in 1992. In this book, Sterling predicts that the

Egypt’s digital opposition has reached its “critical mass”

Social media played a central role in the popular uprising in Egypt. But the new rulers, regardless whether they belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood or the military have done their very best to take control of the digital domain—with help of European

“Digitocide”: the new way to silence the masses

Twitter and YouTube were recently closed down in Turkey. Platforms for citizen journalism and websites of non-governmental organisations have fallen victim to the Turkish government’s attempts to shut down their user

The fifth column, dissidents and a shrinking internet

The Russian president Vladimir Putin recently stated that internet was actually created by the CIA and that Russia needed to build its own internet. It is obvious that the battle for freedom of speech in Russia and other

Ammar 404 is dead. Long live Ammar 404!

Tunisia is in 133rd place out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2014. The journalist and human rights activist Afef Abrougui writes here about the phenomenon Ammar 404, which is the error message

Welcome to the goldfish bowl

It has been obvious for some time now, perhaps 20 years or so, that the struggle for the freedom of speech is being waged in the digital world. What we see happening today, however, is yet another shift in the digital balance of power.

It was in the 1990s that digital freedom of speech was first debated, and the emergence a new medium produced a number of rather too optimistic future scenarios.. It was claimed that this new decentralised communication network would be impossible to control; totalitarian states would be overrun by the freedom of information. It is important to note that many of these developments really were cause for optimism. One of the reasons that the Soviet Union rotted from the inside out was their prohibition of personal computers and restrictions on computer use. During the “Velvet Revolution” in what was then Czechoslovakia, the democratic opposition used simple computer modems to spread information over the telephone network. The security services were never able to understand that the digital birdsong they heard on the wire signalled the downfall of the dictatorship. For a decade or so, the situation was resembled the great breakthrough for the free press in the 18th century. Governments could no longer control the new medium, the inexpensive book or website fulfilled the same function with more and more people gaining access to information.

But eventually there was backlash, as in the wake of the enlightenment. The Chinese began to methodically develop new censorship techniques, which essentially put the entire country of China behind a second great wall. The world's major telecommunication companies, including Siemens and the Swedish Telia, shamelessly assisted dictators in countries such as Iran or Belarus by monitoring and mapping dissidents. It was as if an iron curtain once again had descended on the world.