Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Web's Identity Crisis: Tool of Freedom or Repression?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Web's Identity Crisis: Tool of Freedom or Repression?

Article excerpt

From Twitter to WikiLeaks, we must balance openness and safety.

The same Internet that has empowered freedom-starved people across the Middle East to unseat despots is the same one that enabled Julian Assange, with just a keystroke on his WikiLeaks site, to put countless lives at risk through the dissemination of thousands of stolen, classified diplomatic cables.

While social-networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr have given citizen-journalists in Tripoli, Libya, and Cairo the ability to organize protests and report developments in real time, the Web itself has become a haven for child pornographers, human traffickers, and identity thieves. The threat of cyberterrorism - the use of the Net to bring down entire economic sectors - is ominous and real.

The tensions inherent in the Web are now exploding on the world stage, catching policy actors largely by surprise. Can governments strike the right balance between promoting a free flow of information while rightly guarding their - and our - privacy? This balance is hard. There is no "app" for Web freedom.

Profound changes in communication

The Web has changed human communications in ways as profound as the printing press did.

Every day, from the high-rise office suites of Chicago to hand- held smart phones in Paris to remote villages connected by dial-up, billions of business and personal transactions are facilitated by an Internet connection that for most people didn't even exist just 15 years ago.

We are able to connect with friends and relatives, forming and deepening relationships that otherwise wouldn't exist. Millions of us work in ways, and in entire fields of endeavor, that we could not even have imagined a decade ago.

More than a year ago, I suggested that the Nobel Peace Prize be awarded not to a person but to Twitter, for its positive role in inspiring the Iranian uprising that followed the shooting death of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan, who was killed while watching nonviolent protests of the disputed Iranian elections.

The dark side

But what happens when the global expression of dissent by a citizen-journalist morphs into the intentional spread of stolen documents whose exposure may well put lives at risk or jeopardize the success of a delicate hostage negotiation? …

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