WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and the dark side of Internet freedom
Evgeny Morozov discusses the implications of WikiLeaks on open vs. closed societies, the paradox of attacking state power, and the future of Internet privacy.
(Page 3 of 4)
Whichever way things go, I think it’s pretty obvious that the US government’s ability to use the Internet to accomplish anything on its foreign policy agenda has been severely damaged.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The rather aggressive manner in which pundits and politicians in Washington have reacted to the release of the cables would make many otherwise staunch supporters of the “Internet freedom” policy to reconsider their attitudes toward the US.
I don’t know about the likely impact on Russia, China, and some other states that some like to call “closed.” The reason why the cables made so much noise in America is because everyone expects America to behave – and it has the nominally free press and the vibrant civil society that allow Assange’s accusations to stay in the game for at least a week. I don’t think that this would necessarily be the case in Russia, where both the media and the civil society are tightly controlled by the Kremlin (and the Internet might soon be, too), while everyone’s expectations of government corruption are already so high that few cables could worsen it.
Also, as we have seen in the Middle East, many governments have no qualms about blocking access to WikiLeaks and preventing their media from covering the story; it’s hard to say whether it’s as much of a salient issue with the elites in China as it is with the elites in the US. In short, it’s the democratic states that are going to suffer the most from WikiLeaks-style forced transparency.
Internet freedom: Careful what you wish for
Gardels: How does the US pursuit of Assange stack up with the view [Secretary of State] Hillary [Rodham] Clinton espoused a year ago at the Newseum in Washington that Internet freedom is our “national brand”?
Morozov: It’s inconceivable that on its one-year anniversary Hillary Clinton would be able to deliver a speech on Internet Freedom as pompous and starry-eyed as she did in January 2010. I never believed that Clinton actually very much pondered the implications and the assumptions implicit in her stance on “Internet freedom.”
The reality is that even before WikiLeaks, the focus of the domestic Internet debate was all about demanding more control of it – whether it’s to track Internet pirates or cyberterrorists or cyber-bullies. However, in the context of foreign policy, the debate is somehow always about “Internet freedom” and opposing the greater Internet control by the likes of China and Iran – all of it as if these other governments are somehow doing something that America itself is not doing in the domestic context.
Some of this may simply have to do with the widespread Western tendency to glamorize the Internet in authoritarian countries – and especially Internet users – many of whom are often imagined as some kind of digital equivalents of Andrei Sakharkov, when they are just regular blokes streaming kinky videos from YouTube.