This guest post is written by Gwen Hinze, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for our series of blog posts on the importance of online civil liberties as part of EFA’s 2010 Fundraising Campaign …
The Internet enables access to knowledge and new opportunities for freedom of expression for all the world's citizens. Digital communications technologies can empower citizens to live rich and rewarding lives, participate in civic life, take part in important decisions that affect them, and share with one another across borders. We have seen individuals use new communications technologies to democratize the creation of culture, up-end traditions, and create innovative new business models.
Citizens empowered with digital technology have changed the course of history, as evidenced, for example, by the worldwide scrutiny Iranian dissidents were able to bring to their country's election in 2009.
But empowered individuals can be disruptive to those who have traditionally been in control. More and more, Internet users find themselves in conflict with vested interests in the entertainment industry and governments trying to control their citizens' freedom of expression. For instance, the Iranian government was able to employ its considerable resources to censor and surveil its citizens' communications on the Internet.
While the Internet is global, it is rooted in a physical infrastructure that makes it vulnerable to national policies, laws, and technical measures.
In many countries across the globe, debates are currently raging over a suite of Internet policies, including government-mandated online censorship, whether ISPs should be required to police the speech of their users, and whether users should face disconnection from the Internet -- a type of digital exile -- on the basis of entertainment industry concerns. The results of these debates are important to all of us, because, unfortunately, short-sighted proposals adopted in one country often pop up again in other places. For example, the French HADOPI law that requires automatic Internet disconnection after a person has been accused of sharing copyrighted material three times is now being considered in the UK, New Zealand and in the global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
As you read this, many individuals and governments are watching to see whether Australia will be the first western democracy to adopt network-level Internet filtering that follows the approach taken by the Great Firewall of China.
Defending the free and open Internet and the rights and freedoms of technology users is an international task. It requires coordination and collaboration by a global network of organizations with a passionate commitment to citizens' civil liberties, and the technical and legal expertise to know how to fight and win these battles.
Electronic Frontiers Australia has always played a crucial role in fighting against Australian government Internet censorship threats and has been a key player in the global fight for digital rights. EFA played a key part in defeating Senator Alston's previous Internet censorship proposal.
EFA now needs your support to continue the fight to protect the free and open Internet and your right to use digital technology as you choose.
Gwen Hinze is International Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital civil liberties organization based in the United States. Although not formally affiliated, EFF and EFA work together on many global initiatives in the fight to protect the free and open Internet and to defend the rights and freedoms of individuals in the online world.