Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: May 2011 (page 1 of 2)

Safety and Social Networks in the Middle East

Not to beat a dead horse, but I came across a few tidbits last night that I found fascinating. While these pertain specifically to Facebook, in this case, I actually don’t meant to suggest that Facebook itself is the problem, rather, the larger point is whether activists are moving away from social networking tools because authoritarian governments have caught up with their use. We know that, in Syria, social media platforms have been used as a tool of surveillance and capture by authorities. I suspect that Syria may not be alone in this.

Last night, Foreign Policy’s managing editor Blake Hounshell tweeted “#Saudi: “It is a clear message that you cannot organize anything on Facebook. That is why she is in prison” along with a link to this NYTimes piece. Journalist Shabina Khatri responded: “Hence why FB usage has fallen so much since last month in Saudi and neighboring countries – fear!”

Khatri also included a link in her tweet, to an article from Doha News claiming that social media usage has dropped considerably in GCC countries in recent months. And no wonder: Protests organized (or promoted) on the world’s most popular social networking site are ripe for surveillance, without requiring any sort of technological savvy from authorities — all they need is a Facebook account.

The e-G8: Promises and Problems

The G8, as I’m sure my readers know, is a forum for the governments of eight of the world’s wealthiest economies. While topics on the G8’s agenda are often globally relevant (energy policy, the environment), the G8 has, over the years, been the target of protests and criticism from a variety of parties, including labor and human rights groups, anti-globalization and anti-nuclear movements.

This year, along with the usual G8 summit held in Deauville, France, there will be an e-G8 summit. Convened by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the apparent purpose of the e-G8 is as a forum for decisionmakers in the Internet and tech industry to interact with world leaders.

The invitation, sent by Sarkozy, includes this paragraph:

Participants in the e-G8 Forum will be able to exchange ideas about cutting-edge products and services. They will also be able to discuss the challenges and opportunities which they believe relevant to the future of the Internet, offering their opinions on a wide range of issues, including for example human rights, intellectual property and technological investment.

A noble idea, perhaps. And yet, one look at the list of attendees and some of the problems become immediately apparent: Absent from the list* are civil society and human rights groups. Furthermore, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the list is made up almost entirely of white men from wealthy corporations.

Nova Spivack, co-founder of the Live Matrix, was invited, and wrote, early on, his thoughts on what he hoped to bring to the table. His entire post is worth reading, but this particular paragraph (which he marked in bold) hits my biggest concerns on the nose:

If we are not extremely careful and diligent in our efforts to protect the open Internet from commercial and government interests, I think it is likely that we will end up building an Internet that is a kind of prison instead of a launchpad for greater levels of human evolution.

Though Spivack, and Larry Lessig, and surely a few other participants may have the right ideas in mind, I don’t hold the same trust for Mark Zuckerberg or Rupert Murdoch, or Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. And the absence of human rights and civil liberties groups–the absence of civil society, really–means that these participants won’t be held accountable at the table for their undoubtedly pro-business (and not necessarily human rights-oriented) ideals.

With that in mind, 36 a number of organizations–including the one at which I now work: the Electronic Frontier Foundation–have signed a Civil Society Letter to the e-G8. We are concerned with access to the Internet, free expression and freedom from surveillance, intermediary liability, intellectual property rights, and net neutrality. We are also concerned with the policies of the French government toward Internet users, particularly the HADOPI law.

If you, as an individual, are similarly concerned, then I encourage you to sign Access’s petition calling on the G8 to adopt citizen-centered Internet policies. If, as an organization, you would like to sign the aforementioned letter, contact info@accessnow.org.

*The list of attendees, as published beforehand: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook; Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google; Jeffrey Bezos, CEO of Amazon; Rupert Murdoch, the Chairman and CEO of News Corporation; Ben Verwayeen, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent; Jean-Bernard Lévy, Chairman of the Management Board of Vivendi; Sunil Bharti Mittal, the Founder and CEO of Bharti Enterprises; Geoff Ramsey, CEO of eMarketer; Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange/ France Telecom; Marc Simoncini, founder of Meetic; Nova Spivack, co-founder of Live Matrix; Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia; Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., Chairman of the New York Times Company and Publisher of the New York Times; Blaise Zerega, the CEO of Fora.tv.; Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm Inc; Peter Chou, CEO of HTC; Michel de Rosen, CEO of Eutelsat Communications ; Xavier Niel, founder of Iliad; Danny Hillis, Co-Chairman of Applied Minds; Hiroshi Inoue, President of Tokyo Broadcasting System; Sean Parker, Managing Partner of Founders Fund; Lawrence Lessig, Professor at Harvard Law School; Hartmut Ostrowski, Chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann AG; Yuri Milner, CEO and Founding Partner of Digital Sky Technologies; Luc Besson, Chairman and Founder of EuropaCorp; John Ridding, Chairman of the Financial Times; Rémy Pflimlin, CEO of France Télévisions; Hisashi Hieda, Chairman of Fuji Television Network; Nicolas Seydoux, Chairman of Gaumont; Lynn Saint-Amour, President & CEO of ISOC; Nicolas de Tavernost, Chairman of Métropole Télévision, S.A.; Mitchell Baker, Chairwoman of Mozilla; Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet, Founder of PriceMinister.com; Juan Luis Cebrian, Chairman of Prisa; Mikael Hed, Chairman of Rovio Mobile, Ltd.; Jim Hagemann Snabe, Co-CEO of SAP AG; Franck Esser, CEO of SFR; Carolyn Reidy, President and CEO of Simon & Schuster, Inc. ; Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify; Peter Dengate Thrush, Chairman of ICANN; Franco Bernabè, Chairman and CEO of Telecom Italia; Thomas Glocer, CEO of Thomson Reuters; Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft; Jacques-Antoine Granjon, CEO of vente-privee.com; and Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

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