A Fragile, Invisible Giant

Mar 27, 2011 No Comments

By Klein Lieu

Photo: Tahrir square in the thick of the Jasmine Revolution

The Internet stands as one of human civilization’s great inventions. It is our era’s Library of Alexandria—a repository of complete human knowledge for generations to come. Like Alexandria, the Internet is a testament to our society’s concept of free access to information, but it sits on shaky ground, completely at the whim of whatever nation or power controls it.

Indeed, in the year of 2011, the entire world witnessed what the power of a dictator can do: it can cut off access to a vital free speech tool and rallying bullhorn to millions of people all in less than 24 hours. In an effort to quell a flood of online organizing, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak ordered Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take their gateways off the Internet, effectively switching the Internet off to Egypt. Why was he allowed to do this without contest? Does he own the Internet? Who owns the Internet? Should something be done to prevent this from happening again?

Theoretically, no one owns the Internet. It is a web of interconnected computers and people. People are what make it useful and determine what goes on to the Internet. Therefore, people should demand that censored Internet anywhere is a threat to uncensored Internet everywhere.  Political leaders across the globe need to see the Internet as not just a technology, but as a right akin to the Bill of Rights that we cherish and live by; it could be called the Freedom of Access to Public Information. Presently, Finland is the only country to recognize such a right.

The Internet’s lack of a centralized governance doubles as its greatest asset and as its biggest weakness. Anyone and everyone can add to it, which makes it strong and inclusive, but it is a fragile institution, prone to the bullying of harsh governments. Anyone with a computer and IP address benefits immensely from the sharing and meshing of ideas and traditions. It behooves us as Americans to see what happens all around the world in real time and to not let the Library of Alexandria of our generation—and of our children’s generations—to crumble under censorship by dictatorships. I call for a universal recognition and protection of Internet access as a human right around the world.

Spring 2011 For. Pol. Issue

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