Category Archives: freedom of information

Free Press = Free Society

Information is power. Few people can make a living, hold their governments accountable, and educate their children without a healthy supply of free- flowing information. Citizens need accurate, timely, independent news they can trust. So do businesses and markets. And so do governments. Media freedom keeps societies and economies vibrant, energetic, and healthy. When the free flow of news and information is cut off, individuals suffer. Societies suffer. Economies suffer.

But even as we observe World Press Freedom Day this year, threats against journalists are rising. As of last December, the Committee to Protect Journalists counted 179 reporters in jail around the world. And journalists continue to be threatened, attacked, disappeared, or murdered for trying to report the news.

In the past year, the world witnessed both the promise of, and the peril to, a free press. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, journalists, bloggers, filmmakers and pundits chronicled the protests sweeping across the region, while some citizens armed with nothing but cell phones risked their lives to upload the truth – by text, tweet, and pixel. In doing so, they were exercising a fundamental freedom enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Yet too many governments attempt to censor the media, directly or indirectly. Too many investigative journalists are being silenced, many for exposing corruption – at local, state, or national government levels. Too many attacks and murders of journalists go unpunished.  In some cases, it is not just governments attacking, intimidating, and threatening journalists. It’s also criminals – drug cartels – terrorists or political factions. When journalists are threatened, attacked, jailed, or disappeared, other journalists self-censor. They stop reporting stories. They tone down stories. They omit details. Sources stop helping them. Their editors hesitate to print stories. Fear replaces truth. All of our societies suffer.

Like Estonia, the United States looks to all governments to take the steps necessary to create the same space we Americans and Estonians have enshrined in our societies for independent journalists to do their work without fear of violence or persecution. We pay special tribute to those courageous journalists, bloggers, and citizens who have sacrificed their lives, health, or freedom so that others could know the truth. And we honor the role of free and independent media in creating sustainable democracies and open, healthy societies.

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Filed under American Values, Civil Society, freedom of information

Internet Freedom AND Intellectual Property Rights

The positive power of the internet has changed the paradigm of international diplomacy, of global governance, and indeed the human condition.  Secretary of State Clinton articulated most clearly last year that the United States, “On the spectrum of internet freedom, [places itself] on the side of openness.”

Over the course of the last several weeks, interested parties in America and around the world have reacted strongly for or against efforts in the U.S. to maintain internet freedom while attempting to find a way to protect the vested property rights that creators, artists, and engineers have in their product.  At issue were two proposed pieces of legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (“PIPA.”) Amongst all the complexity of this issue is a rather clear goal we Americans share with our democratic partners and friends around the world:  Full, unfettered and free access to the internet by the global citizenry AND the protection of the intellectual wealth of our innovators and creative minds from on-line theft.  

As we seek to address both of these interests, it should come as no surprise that our efforts of protecting intellectual property online cause legitimate attention to the scope of any regulation of the internet.  Of course neither our government nor the American people wish unintentionally to provide a pretext to those who wish to suppress democratic rights under the guise of “legal protections.”  Once completed, U.S. legislation that would protect the rights of American intellectual property and internet freedom would likewise serve to protect such rights and values the world over.  Again, Secretary of State Clinton has confirmed that “there is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet.”

The White House meanwhile has set U.S. Administration policy regarding intellectual property legislation, stating that while piracy is a serious problem on the internet, the President will not support any proposed legislation that would reduce freedom of expression or otherwise detract from the Internet’s potential.  Both the President and our Congress have called for legislation that is narrowly-tailored with a focus on criminal activity.  Such tailoring should address U.S. and international concerns about internet freedom and its liberating role for people seeking free expression and democratic rule from one corner of the world to the other.

Two important engines of America’s economy, represented by places like Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and their international counterparts, should work together and help tailor workable laws in all our countries that will protect property rights, freedom of speech, and internet assembly.

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Filed under American Values, Civil Society, diplomacy, freedom of information, good governance, Intellectual Property

It’s Internet Freedom, Stupid!

Read a piece in the New York Times of June 12, 2011, entitled: U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors.   Great story.  Great reading.  The ultimate point of the article is freedom of information, freedom of expression, freedom to participate in the 21st century communications revolution – the internet and all other forms of wireless communications technology.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made the vigorous defense of internet freedom a central element of U.S. foreign policy.  This policy has nothing to do with a fascination with modern communications technology (although it is cool!)  The policy is based on the simple realization that values first embraced by the young United States more than 200 years ago have found a new medium of electronic transmission.  It bridges distances, borders, cultural differences, political repression and violence, and virtually all other obstacles, to lend a voice to freedom, a voice to people in many parts of the world who have been silenced for too long.  “Let freedom ring!” has become “Let freedom byte!”  That is of course why repressive regimes everywhere do what they can to control or even shut down internet access to anyone who opposes them.  And that is why those of us who live in freedom must do the opposite by insisting on preserving unfettered internet access to all.  The June 12 NYT article notes that is exactly what a group of smart geeks is up to. 

So here is another great way for smart Americans and smart Estonians to work together in support of shared values!  Soon after arriving in Estonia more than a year and a half ago, I invited this country’s IT community to work on internet freedom hard and software.  Let me reissue this invitation.  Please read the NYT article Estonia and lend your considerable IT prowess to liberation technology.

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Filed under American Values, Civil Society, freedom of information, good governance, U.S. -Estonian Relations, U.S. Foreign Relations

Good for Google and (Internet) Freedom!

Google’s decision to pull it’s search engine out of China’s market is not about China.  It is about the core principle of our information technology age; internet freedom; and ultimately individual freedom for all of us.  Google has handled this matter skillfully and responsibly.  It has done so not without corporate risk and ceding some ground to its competitors.  But ultimately it has actually done itself and the industry a great favor:  it asserted the right of access to information that is also its future bottom line for industry profitability.  Information technology companies can hardly prosper if information is restricted or unavailable.  In the end, the Google decision is not just the right thing to do, but also good for business.

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Filed under American Values, economy, freedom of information