The Iranian protests of 2009. WikiLeaks. And now the unrest in Tunisia. It doesn’t take a genius to observe the very different ways the US government has reacted and is currently reacting to those events as part of its internet freedom policy, one which is pretty much part of its foreign policy.
Jillian C. York makes the point rather nicely.
If we as a nation truly believed in Internet freedom, then we would focus not only on those countries that might benefit us (a free Iran, a capitalist China) but on all of those nations where citizens are restricted from speaking out. We would loosen the export controls on Syria–not just Iran–to allow Syrian citizens access to communications and circumvention tools, and we would give our ally Tunisia–secular, egalitarian Tunisia–incentive to stop oppressing its citizens.
Although, as Brian Whitwalker observes, it might not be such a bad thing that Tunisia isn’t getting much attention from the United States and its media.
Now, on a related note, sadly, it looks like Tunisian activist and blogger, Slim Amamou, whom I personally know and had the pleasure of meeting in Beirut and chilling with, has been arrested by the Tunisian authorities for the horrible evil crime of peacefully expressing his views and advocating for freedom of speech.
On another related note, good luck to Jake, aka Jacob Appelbaum, billed in this hyperbolic Rolling Stones blog post as “the Most Dangerous Man in Cyberspace: The American Behind Wikileaks.”
Appelbaum is the public face of Tor Project, an organization that, by introducing intermediaries between computers, is used to prevent some of the world’s most repressive regimes from tracking activists’ movements online. Dissidents from China, Tunisia and a suspected high-level member of the Iranian military have used it to protect their identities.
While Appelbaum’s work for Tor has been substantial, more notorious is his extensive work for Wikileaks. “Jake has been a tireless promoter behind the scenes of our cause,” founder Julian Assange said.
I’ve had the fortune of being trained by Jake on how to properly use Tor and other anti-censorship and anonymity tools, twice so far at two separate events, and I certainly hope he can endure the crap he’s been facing lately.
The next days and weeks are going to be interesting for sure, especially as the US Department of Justice builds up its case against Assange, and the unrest hopefully continues in Tunisia and produces some fruitful results. Until then, many questions will remain unanswered, but one thing is for sure. America’s “Net Freedom” policy needs some serious uniformity.
UPDATE: It’s official. Dictator Ben Ali is bye bye. What a glorious, historic moment. What an inspiration. What a beautiful scene.
Like many others, I’ve been following the news closely, and while I am excited about the future prospects of something similar happening in other Arab countries, I remain cautious, because Tunisia is quite a unique case. Also, while social media played a significant role in what happened, it’s only a single factor amongst others, and it can’t take all the credit, or even most of it, as Ethan Zuckerman has explained.
Whatever happens after this, remains to be seen, but I do predict one thing. Governments in the region are going to start thinking about ways of controlling the internet more effectively to preempt any similar developments from taking place within their countries. Good luck to us netizens and bloggers.