Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: September 2010 (page 2 of 6)

Are we compromising national security by increasing access to information online?

This post is a liveblog of a panel at Google’s Liberty at 2010 conference in Budapest, September 22, 2010.

Calling this debate the “elephant in the room,” moderator Monroe Price of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania introduces the panel.

The first speaker, Smari McCarthy of Digital Freedoms Society (Iceland), notes that this is a double-edged sword: The security of the state and the security of the people of the state.  Conflating these implies a common interest, but McCarthy thinks we need to separate the two.  He believes that thinking about security of the people can increase security of the state.

Respondent Michael Semple of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard notes the example of Wikileaks as a talking point.

McCarthy notes that “the state chooses its own rules”, and that those often reflect the interests of individuals working for the state, rather than the desires of the people.  He explains that we need to make the test (for what constitutes a security concern) more open.

Heather Brooke, a freedom of information activist in the UK, is asked how she deals with the question of finding a proper limit.

Brooke states that the key is whether or not there is actual harm, as opposed to speculative harm.  She’s been working on a 5-year campaign for the UK parliament to disclose their expenses.  Using freedom of information requests, she’s taken it to the high court in London.  She explains that politicians gave two reasons for not disclosing info: privacy and national security.  Leaving aside privacy, she notes that she had asked for MPs’ second addresses, believing that there were scams going on (houses used for non-governmental officials etc).  She believed that having access to those addresses would allow her to investigate, but the government felt that it was a national security issue.

“The people defining national security are the same who have the most to gain by keeping it secret,” Brooke says, “there’s an incentive for those people to claim ‘national security’ to prevent embarrassment…we need an outside body without a vested interest to determine who is being protected by these rules.”

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Crossing national borders: Is the Internet a danger and a blessing?

This is a liveblog of a panel at the Google Liberty at 2010 conference in Budapest, September 22, 2010.

Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders (France) introduces the panel; we will hear from several bloggers and activists from various countries to get a sense of restrictions on Internet and bloggers globally.


First up is Esraa Rashid of Egyptian Democratic Academy (Egypt).  “First of all, in Egypt, we have our own model.”  The Egyptian government doesn’t yet filter websites.  She mentions that Facebook plays a huge political rule in Egyptians’ lives, but that Egyptians still worry that the site could be blocked; yet, she states that Egypt cares too much about what the rest of the world thinks.

Rashid notes that Egypt has arrested multiple bloggers; mentioning the well-known case of Kareem Amer and the more recent case of young Syrian blogger Tal Al-Mallouhi (whom Egyptian activists have been fighting for outside the Syrian embassy).

Rashid also mentions the case of Khaled Said, which was spread widely via the Internet.  In particular, a photo of the beaten young man by a witness was spread globally, resulting in protests.  The campaign was successful because of the Internet, but Rashid says that, as a result of how it spread online, it was also successful offline.  She also notes that 300,000 Egyptians were involved online in the campaign.

Rashid is concerned that the Egyptian government is creating Facebook groups that target activists, describing them as colluders with foreign governments; she notes, however, that a young activist infiltrated one of these groups, changing its name.

The group Rashid is involved with is launching an Arabic Ushahidi platform for election monitoring; she is concerned that the government will block the site.


Next up is Azerbaijani [name unknown; not in program].  He starts by describing the unique situation of Azerbaijan, surrounded by diverse countries.  Discussing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (ceasefire 1994), he notes that the succeeding 16 years have been peaceful, but that this year there is possibility of a new war.

He also states that there is an “informational war”, started in 1998, and that in this “war”, the Internet is the most important weapon.  He states that there is censorship that international organizations can do nothing about, and that there is a big problem with hackers as well (and DDoS attacks).

He says bloggers have a lot of potential, and that since “the old instruments are no longer working,” bloggers are being paid attention to by international organs.  Journalists and bloggers have a peaceful role in the conflict, mostly, he says.

“Many countries have problems with bloggers–neighboring Georgia as well,” he mentions, but states that “when something bad happens to bloggers, other parties shouldn’t be happy about it, because such a bad situation can happen in any country.”  He notes that if something bad happens to bloggers in Azerbaijan, neighboring countries such as Armenia and Georgia could follow suit.

“Because the Net doesn’t have a nationality, it can be a bad weapon,” he concludes.

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A Hard Place and a Rock: Challenges for Industry

This post is a liveblog of a panel at Google’s Liberty at 2010 conference.

Rebecca MacKinnon, currently of the New America Foundation, is leading the next discussion, entitled “A rock and a hard place: challenges for industry.”  The panel will focus on the issues of intermediaries, and will feature David Drummond of Google (US) and Lord Richard Allan of Facebook (UK).

MacKinnon begins the final panel of the day by asking how can cyberspace fulfill its potential.  She suggests that the answer to the question posed earlier today, “is the potential of the Internet as a force for positive change?” is “we don’t know yet.”

She mentions my paper, published yesterday, entitled “Policing Content in the Quasi-Public Sphere” to introduce a discussion on how companies (intermediaries) are framing discussion and controlling speech.

She mentions that Google continues to come under fire, particularly by privacy groups, regarding the company’s collection of data.

Just as in we regard governments as “trying to do the right thing,” Rebecca points out that we often trust companies in the same manner.  She asks, a year after  Google’s famous decision to stop filtering in China, if Google has an obligation to do more.

“We do have an obligation,” says David Drummond, Senior Vice President of Google, “and we’re trying to do more.”  Drummond states that free expression is at the forefront of Google’s decisions.  “We’ve always been criticized by folks for various things, and we do listen, and we change our policies.”  He states that one thing Google has done to make themselves more accountable is release their transparency tool.  “Don’t just trust us, let us put that information out there.”

MacKinnon raises the fact that Google was a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multi-stakeholder organization that brings together companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics in order to “protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.”

She then moves to Facebook’s Lord Richard Allan and asks what Facebook is doing to build trust in its users.  She asks, “Why isn’t Facebook joining the GNI?” and mentions that she has been a strong critic of Facebook over the course of the past year.

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