Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Tag: net freedom (page 1 of 3)


Photo by @donatelladr

On Sunday, Alaa’s detention was extended by another 15 days. At this point, the United Nations, Amnesty International, and countless other advocacy groups (including the EFF) have called for the release of Alaa, as well as others unjustly imprisoned by Egypt’s ruling military council. There are also numerous groups in the US and Europe actively pressuring governments to use their weight to ensure their release.

I continue to be angered, as well as disheartened, by the US government’s lack of action. I have no doubt that the State Department is working behind the scenes on this, as they do on many things, but with Clinton making public statements about opposing “conditionality” of aid to Egypt, State’s background work is, frankly, useless. Furthermore, if backdoor attempts are focused entirely on Alaa, and not on the bigger picture, then they’re going entirely against everything he stands for.

Congress needs to be pressured at this point for any real action (read: withdrawal of funding for the Egyptian military), and while I know some folks are working on this, we need to speak out louder. We, as individuals, need to start calling our representatives.
Once again, some links:

  • Translation of Alaa’s latest letter from prison.
  • A piece from Mina Naguib on Egypt’s “forgotten blogger” and the broader free expression picture.
  • Sokari of Blacklooks has written a great piece.
  • …as has Alia Mossalam, whose piece contains this particularly beautiful set of paragraphs which I just have to share:

Look who you’ve grown into ya Alaa :)

While ‘just being good’ is what drives Alaa to be brave; what drives me , certainly is being surrounded by family and friends and the bubble of trueness of intent that they create. I’ve been lucky these last 6 years as my life has been a constant production and reproduction and affirmation and reaffirmation, that all that is ideal can be real, and all that is good is possible and all around us.

I cannot begin to describe what it means to be in a revolution with your husband, your brother, your father, your mother, your aunt, your cousins. Death shrinks in insignificance. And the risks you take you internalize, and they become you, and part of all your lives. Needless to say, bravery, legitimacy, protest, chanting, revolution it all, all becomes about love. All the love you’ve ever felt or wanted to feel floats out of you and binds us all as ‘us’.

I can’t begin to imagine that Khaled has been conceived of this :) And that he will be born into a world of ideals, the best time of our lives, where all our focus and all our energies are focused unto being good, and proving that this IS a world where we will be.

Iranians Get More Google…

…but Syrians and Sudanese don’t. Seems like the State Department is once again deciding who is most worthy of their net freedom agenda. The latest announcement (via VOA) states that Google, after negotiating with the State Department, can now offer Google Chrome, Picasa, and Google Earth to Iranian net users.  Says Google’s Scott Rubin:

The citizens of Iran will be able to download three Google products: Google Chrome, which is our browser, Picasa, which is our photo-sharing software, and Google Earth, which provides users a 3-D way to scan and world, and users can add their own layers to earth to create their own version about what they want to share with people about the world where they live.

Great news for Iranians, who frankly, should never have been restricted from using communications tools in the first place. But hey, that’s just collateral damage, right?  The Iranian government is the real target, and you know how much damage they can do with Chrome.

Okay, so perhaps I’m being a bit harsh toward the State Department; after all, it was Google that applied for the license, right?  Was Google unaware that Syrians, Sudanese, and Cubans are also restricted from accessing their products?  I’m certain they were, so it seeks to reason that in their “negotiations” with the government, they made a conscious decision to provide those products only to the Iranian market.

So what difference does this really make?  Not much.  Syrians have been downloading Chrome, Earth, and even Gears (not one of the tools made available to Iranians yet) via proxy for years.  They access Picasa through VPNs, simple proxies, commercial tools, etc.  Last year, I interviewed a group of Syrians about the export controls and the effect they have on their lives.  Most said it didn’t matter too much, that it was simply an annoyance, but that it affected how they felt about the United States.

And that is why this matters.  The US has the opportunity to change a few minds here, to warm a few Syrian netizens to them, and instead, they continue to focus on Iran, apparently in the hopes that by continuing to court Iranians, they’ll manage to effect regime change.  With Syria, on the other hand, perhaps they don’t want to rock the boat (and with Google Earth, of course, there’s a very real chance that the Syrian government would block it anyway).

I’ll certainly admit that perhaps there’s some delicate bit of foreign policy I don’t understand here, but frankly, I doubt it.  To me, this is about how the State Department’s Net Freedom policy is hypocritical.  There are areas of foreign policy in which countries will undoubtedly not be treated equal, but this should not be one of them. If Internet freedom is part of the American brand, then everyone is worthy of it.

Additional Reading: Lee Baker’s excellent paper, “The Unintended Consequences of U.S. Export Restrictions on Software and Online Services for American Foreign Policy and Human Rights,” Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, Vol. 2, Number 2, Spring 2010.

Iran but not Tunisia: Where’s the outrage?

I fear this post will raise more questions than it will provide answers.  I know that I will likely come across as naive, not able to grasp realpolitik.  I’m angry, on behalf of my friends in and exiled from Tunisia, as to why so little attention is being paid to the current situation (in case you’re amongst those non-observers, read this overview by NDI’s Katherine Maher).

I’ve been away from home for over two weeks now with far less Internet and television access than usual, so it’s difficult for me to gauge what the American reaction has been to the strife in Tunisia thus far.  A quick Google search shows me a decent amount of US media coverage of the situation–both online and offline–though considerably less attention than was paid to the Iranian elections of 2009, which were undeniably ubiquitous in all forms of media, garnering widespread awareness of the situation.

Though I don’t like or agree with it one bit, I understand why the US government focuses disproportionately on Iran: fear of nuclear weapons, fear of attacks on Israel, fear of Islam.  I don’t understand, however, why public and media attention is equally disproportionate.  If media is not a mouthpiece of the government, then shouldn’t our outrage be equal?

The online media coverage of the Tunisian events may well be adequate (though is likely not), but where it the outrage we saw in 2009 vis-à-vis Iran?  Where are the ubiquitous hashtags?  Both the Iranian Green movement and the current outrage emanating from Tunisia are homegrown, native, huge, and yet, one garnered widespread international support while attention to the other is limited to a small transnational network, as far as I can see.

I very much understand the current outrage from my Tunisian friends, particularly as it is leveled at the US government in respect to Internet freedom.  While the US stepped forward to help Iranians (whether by fast-tracking circumvention tools for export or asking Twitter to halt its updates), little had been said publicly over the years regarding Tunisian censorship, nor the American companies that make it possible (Tunisia, like several other countries in the region, uses McAfee’s SmartFilter software to block a vast swath of websites, and does so with impunity).  Europe, on the other hand, has spoken up this time around.

Forget the government – where is the media outrage?  Sometimes I think the media has forgotten who it works for.  This isn’t Tunisia, we have a free press.  What’s their excuse?

Now, with the arrest of Slim Amamou, I call on my friends once again to speak out, loudly.  If you have connections to the media, use them.  If you have questions, I can put you in touch with people on the ground in Tunisia.  Don’t let this go ignored.

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