A step forward for internet privacy and freedom?
Or a front for something deeper?
FUTURE OF THE INTERNET
The online realm is in a state of distress, with many concerns directly affecting users on a daily basis.
The issues surrounding online privacy, the preservation of human dignity and censorship, have all been a topic of conversation in public discourse over recent years.
The people want a free and open internet free of these problems.
Thankfully, our ‘authorities’ have made a pledge to help make this a reality.
“We are united by a belief in the potential of digital technologies to promote connectivity, democracy, peace, the rule of law, sustainable development, and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the document begins.
But “access to the open internet is limited by some authoritarian governments and online platforms and digital tools are increasingly used to repress freedom of expression and deny other human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The non-binding statement calls for “a single global Internet – one that is truly open and fosters competition, privacy, and respect for human rights.”
“State-sponsored or condoned malicious behaviour is on the rise, including the spread of disinformation and cybercrimes such as ransomware, affecting the security and the resilience of critical infrastructure while holding at risk vital public and private assets,” it continues.
The document is signed by many United States and its allies, including the governments of Australia, France, Israel, Japan and the United Kingdom.
The document envisions the principles within getting discussed “in the UN system, G7, G20, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Trade Organization, and other relevant multilateral and multistakeholder fora, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, Internet Governance Forum, and Freedom Online Coalition.”
Could this really be a push towards a free and open internet?
This announcement does look good on the surface, but let’s not forget the actions of those behind this push.
The same ones that have attempted to restrict the internet in the first place.
ALL JUST A FRONT?
While we agree with the Declaration’s call for an Internet that protects human rights and promotes democratic participation through inclusive and universal connectivity, privacy and security protections, the Declaration largely avoids addressing mass digital surveillance.
This type of surveillance is something that the Australian government and its Five Eyes partners pioneered, and the Declaration offers little to combat the rampant profiling and maximal data collection that characterises the big-tech business model.
“Born out of a black box, with unclear authorship, and not opened for consultation by stakeholders in civil society, so far as we can see, the statement lacks a supportive coalition and the input that leads to meaningful change,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel at Access Now.
Indeed, it notably doesn’t mention domestic struggles over internet freedom, such as politically motivated censorship of news stories by private companies and alleged illegal government surveillance.
The document is also non-binding and vague.
For example, it doesn’t describe a specific remedy for disinformation, but does call for governments to “foster greater exposure to diverse cultural and multilingual content, information, and news online.”
Its wording also broadly condemns “harassment” and “intimidation” and calls for signers “to make the internet a safe and secure place for everyone, particularly women, children, and young people.”
The term ‘disinformation’ has been used to censor content that later gains broad acceptance — such as reporting on documents from Hunter Biden’s laptop, which Twitter blocked and Facebook throttled.
Let’s also not forget speculation that COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese lab, which Facebook banned before U.S. intelligence agencies later found the scenario one of two “plausible” pandemic origin theories.
The Declaration comes just days after the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, reached a deal to purchase Twitter for $44 billion and establish a new pro-free speech vision of not censoring content unless required by law.
Musk specifically condemned Twitter’s decision in October 2020 to suspend The Post’s account for publishing what the billionaire called “truthful” news.
Is this a way to gain more control over the internet in light of a potential resurgence of freedom on the web?
Let’s not forget that these nations and tech companies already have more than all the necessary tools available to ensure true ‘disinformation’ is stamped out — yet continue to ask for more.
Why should their words be trusted this time around?
BIG BROTHER NETWORK
The Australian government already conducts some of its own contentious surveillance programs, including to intercept data that traverses connections that make up the internet’s backbone.
In the U.S., two federal appeals courts ruled that a dragnet phone-records program exposed in 2013 was illegal, while Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich in February alleged that there’s a collection program unknown to the public that is “outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection.”
Although 60 governments signed the declaration, its principles don’t necessarily have to be followed by the signers when those principles conflict with domestic laws.
The signers have pledged to “work together to promote this vision globally, while respecting each other’s regulatory autonomy within our own jurisdictions and in accordance with our respective domestic laws and international legal obligations,” the document stated.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group that’s focused on Internet issues, called the document’s principles “laudable” but also “aspirational,” in an announcement.
Implementing these principles will require many signatory countries to change their current practices, which include censoring online speech of marginalised communities, failing to build out affordable high-speed internet, using malware and mass surveillance to spy on users, fostering misinformation, secretly collecting personal information, and pressuring big tech platforms to police online speech.
Until these elements of the digital realm are solved, any declaration is baseless at the least — and a plot to ensure more control at the worst.
Either way, those who caused this problem in the first place are certainly not those who will fix it.
It is up to citizens and privacy advocates to ensure internet freedom is kept alive.
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