Monday, 11 June 2012


Let's play a game called spot the logical fallacy... not roller coaster fun, but crossword fun, until you realize it's the foundation of foreign policy.

"The Internet is a powerful tool for innovation and expression because it allows information and ideas to flow freely. According to McKinsey, the Internet has generated as much growth over the past 15 years as the Industrial Revolution generated in 50 years. This is a clear jobs issue — particularly in the United States. Over the past five years, the Internet has been responsible for 21 percent of the growth in mature economies and has created 2.6 jobs for every job it has displaced. Its power to generate innovation is rivaled only by its potential to help people realize their rights and democratic aspirations."(OECD rep. K. Kornbluh, 2011

Water freely flows down in a river.
People freely express themselves in a democracy.
ease of movement ≠  live free or die Freedom

This seamless transition from economic statistics to the natural conclusion that the internet is a tool of democracy hinges on the two meanings of free.  It is the basis of the crusade for openness, the pursuit of the same old policy of free markets overturning autocracy.  However, in the current environment of election rhetoric against evil empires like Iran or Syria, falsely equating a policy to protect the free flow of information with protecting oppressed populations is a ruse, a red herring, a play to the fear of censorship and regulation.  In 2011, the OECD (an economic body) adopted policy guidelines while the White House crafted the International Strategy for Cyberspace which leads off with the subtitle 'Prosperity, Security and Openness in Networked World.'  These both influenced the drafting of the EU's Cyber Security Directive.  Within these documents, the priority and bulk of language (i.e. things they thought to list first and spend the most time going into detail about), were economic.  These are economic policies, not 'protect democratic freedom' policies.  They are not about human rights, they are about shielding corporations from liability and regulating just enough to protect intellectual property as the US (the leader in this field) innovates.  Lines such as:
"the internet is at risk" (Kornbluh, 2011)
"looming threat" and "naked power grab led by Russia and China" (Krigman, 2012)
These are the red herrings of risk.  The real threat is another dominant tech.  Chinese based systems? Intranets?  Countries designing for domestic users and limiting interoperability. Anything where Google's Ad Sense won't work.  And where information gathering agencies struggle because they no longer have an open door with American made tools collecting data.

When the organization responsible for protecting human rights (HRC) met to talk about creating more coherent international norms about the right to freedom of expression and the internet, the response by lawmakers in the US was uproar and indignation that limitations might be set on the internet.

Back to the game... here's where the two meanings of the word 'free' go their separate ways in the debate.  The UN expresses a wish to continue the same freedom of expression on the internet that is guaranteed in the charter (presciently described as 'any media').  The US wishes to protect the free flow of information from any regulations.  If these two things were really equivalent, then there would be no problem.