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Iran, WikiLeaks, Tunisia, and The Double Standards of the United States’ So-Called Internet Freedom Policy

by Drima on January 9, 2011

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.



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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jonah84 01.11.11 at 8:21 pm

Interesting. It is not double standard it more like don’t mess with empire!
I haven’t been on your blog for sometime.. but what is going on you are not even blog on one of the most important event in modern Sudanese history? Referendum..

2 Craig 01.11.11 at 9:16 pm

Well, first off the wikileaks thing stopped being a “freedom of expression” issue and started being an “espionage” issue the minute they started publishing state secrets, in my opinion. If anyone thinks they have a “right” to spy on my government, then I don’t support that right and I advocate my government putting those people in prison where they belong.

And I’m a libertarian, saying that. I don’t know what all the confusion is about when it comes to freedom of expression, but it doesn’t mean what a lot of people seem to think it means.

As for Jillian, I think I disagree with her as much as I usually do:

If we as a nation truly believed in Internet freedom…

I don’t know what “internet freedom” is, but is she implying that Americans don’t believe in freedom? If we don’t, then who does? If freedom is just a big lie then everyone should just shut up and stop whining about how they don’t have the imaginary freedom. And if freedom is NOT a myth, then why do people like Jillian York persistently defend those countries that oppress their people while attacking those countries that don’t?

… then we…

Again with the “we”… what’s up with all the expats who presume to speak for the countries they hated so much they left? At least if Jognny Depp or Madonna was speaking for ALL Americans while residing in France or the UK, there’s presumably be some entertainment value.

…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.

Why? It isn’t my job or my countries job to provide freedom to our enemies, is it? Freedom to do what? To plot against us? Hell no. I don’t want “those” people to have freedom, and neither should any other American in their right mind. Why does Jillian York want the US to provide freedom for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for instance? Is she insane? Does she think other Americans are insane enough to support her on that? And this brings up another important point, and that’s whether or not crazy people should be given a forum from which to babble their tinfoilhattery. What good comes of that? What has Jillian York done for HER country of America lately?

We would loosen the export controls on Syria–not just Iran–to allow Syrian citizens access to communications and circumvention tools…

Why? Is there a democratic opposition in Syria? If so, it must be the best kept secret in the world. Where’s all my wikileaks about how Assad is worried about the pro-Western Syrian liberals coming to kick his ass and tear down his government? Instead, whenever I see a Syrian say something on the internet I can’t help but feel they want me dead. And sorry, Jillian, but I’m not fully on board with being killed by Syrian lunatics just so you can claim you did a day’s good work for once in your life.

… and we would give our ally Tunisia–secular, egalitarian Tunisia–incentive to stop oppressing its citizens.

I have nothing against Tunisia but I’m all for letting Tunisians sort things out on their own and let the chips fall where they may. I’m not at all in favor of the US meddling un-necessarily in the affairs of other states, and that’s particularly true in MUSLIM states because the US has never gotten a result that was anything like what we hoped for from doing that.

Isn’t it ironic though, that Obama agrees with me on this one while GW Bush agreed with Jillian? I bet that really makes her skin crawl :P

3 jonah84 01.12.11 at 3:59 am

When it comes to international stage- the empire doesn’t waste time with lip service words like freedom of speech , etc.. If your action helps its bottom line… you are fighting for freedom of speech if it doesn’t you don’t get heard or better don’t exist..

If you should reveal evidence about torture in “rogue countries” you are a human rights fighter or freedom fighter fighting for justice and democracy— if you reveal information about an American military helicopter killing innocent Iraqis you go to jail.. share any information about torture at Guantanamo it is espionage…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_SxVqAZP3I

4 Craig 01.12.11 at 6:42 am

If what you say is true and there’s no such thing as freedom of speech, then what are you complaining about? Can’t you find some more interesting mythology to believe in?

5 jonah84 01.14.11 at 2:31 am

I didn’t say there is no freedom of speech. There is some form of it inside the U.S. but I think Drima was talking about America’s double standard on the international stage… my point was that on international stage how American government’s promote concepts like Freedom of Speech, democracy and Human rights depends on government and country.. Saudi Arabia vs Cuba , etc… The guiding principle is if you like the government don’t say anything if you don’t like the government tell the world it violates freedom speech , HR, etc. . Those ideals or concept are tools or weapons to achieve political, economical ends…

6 Andrew Brehm 01.14.11 at 4:11 pm

I don’t understand why believing in freedom means giving up self-interest.

7 Jillian C. York 01.14.11 at 7:16 pm

Aw Craig, once an idiot, always an idiot.

8 Craig 01.14.11 at 9:29 pm

Your not very creative for a wannabe journalist, Jillian, but I’m totally honored to have at least been deemed worthy of your attention. Such as it is :)

9 Marie Claude 01.16.11 at 1:46 am

Craig

“I’m not at all in favor of the US meddling un-necessarily in the affairs of other states, and that’s particularly true in MUSLIM states ”

too late

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/01/u-s-copter-sales-cant-save-wiki-ousted-tunisian-dictator/

10 Jillian C. York 01.16.11 at 2:55 pm

Thanks Craig, but if I wanted to be a journalist, I would be by now. Your diatribes are simply idiotic: “whenever I see a Syrian say something on the internet I can’t help but feel they want me dead.” Really? No Syrian opposition online?

Go back to your hole in…what is it, West Virginia? Missouri?

11 Drima 01.17.11 at 7:04 am

Erm, Craig…

“the wikileaks thing stopped being a “freedom of expression” issue and started being an “espionage” issue the minute they started publishing state secrets, in my opinion”

There’s still no evidence whatsoever to suggest that it’s an “espionage” issue. The US government is doing its best however to turn it into one by attempting to establish a connection between Assange and Manning, and somehow showing that Assange played a role in getting Manning to extract all that classified information.

So far, there’s no proof that suggests that that’s the case. In fact, I believe no such proof exists. Until that proof pops up, WikiLeaks will continue to be a media organization, one that is being harassed by the US government. It’s done what outlets like the NY Times have done in the past – published leaked information, except the only main difference is that WikiLeaks did it on a much larger scale.

Anyways, my main concern is that this whole thing could set a dangerous precedent in the future when certain media organizations come under the spotlight for publishing things that don’t paint certain powerful regimes in the most favorable light.

Also, Craig and Andrew,

Double standards exist, and blatantly so in some cases. If you can recall, during the Bush administration’s time in power, the United States happily criticized many countries for human rights abuses, and yet, had no problems outsourcing torture through the CIA to some of those very countries.

So let’s at least admit that.

12 Zoxuf 01.17.11 at 8:19 am

I agree with Drima, WikiLeaks should be left alone unless there is solid evidence that Manning was told to do what he did. While I don’t think the government should go after WikiLeaks, I feel that diplomatic cables are a pretty stupid thing to leak. Diplomacy needs a certain level of privacy to be effective.

13 Andrew Brehm 01.18.11 at 9:28 pm

Drima,

During the Bush administration the US did exactly the same as during the Obama administration, and in both cases the countries the US criticised were MUCH MUCH worse AND targeted innocent people.

You don’t need a double-standard to approve waterboarding terrorists but criticise hanging homosexuals.

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