By. Miguel Rodriguez – Image Credit: Patrick Chappatte
Cochabamba – Bolivia, October 2013. The internet has become a rising flag of free speech globally, and is a great opportunity for a lot of internets surfers and users to make their voices heard. Social media websites make an easy instrument for people to gather on a particular interest and state opinions on different matters and subjects. Using and browsing the internet has become a regular activity for those who have the economic means to do so. Speaking an idea freely is done, either through participation in social media and forum websites, blogging, websites, and other means. Of course, businesses all over the world have been able to use the internet as an instrument marketing, commerce, and to extend their business. The internet, according to UNESCO, also holds potential of development, due to its possible resources and new opportunities for expression. Freedom of expression is not only for the regular media, but also for new thriving technologies.
But the internet of course also holds its bad sides. The internet platform and all its beneficial uses can be turned quickly to serve illegal purposes. Besides the uses for criminal activities, the easiness of expressing opinions and sharing information has made it difficult to discern useful from plainly bad or inaccurate information. It is very common to see internet uses to be applied negatively. Hurtful information, frauds, scams, identity theft and the gathering of objectionable groups which have racist, sexist, discriminative or otherwise wrong goals and tendencies, as well criminal organizations, drug dealing, terrorist activities, and copyright transgression are some of the main concerns which make governments to decide to intervene on the global platform.
The last five years there has been increasing control which has been promoted by governmental institutions and bodies that attempt to make mass surveillances on nationals and foreign behavior on the internet. Whilst some governments deny that they engage in such controlling activities of the internet population, programs with a strong legal background, are implemented globally. Other governments have simply taken action directly on people who make statements against a particular government instance, politics, political figures, and others. Arrests over these opinions posted on the internet which were made through social media are happening more often in the recent years.
Governments interference on the internet was bound to happen due to the different wrong uses given to it, yet, reasons, as legal as they may be, are perhaps not fully justified. Government instances should be more transparent in informing users the way mass surveillances are being engaged, and how this affects them in their day to day life. The right to privacy and privacy related laws are not being respected and there is no clarity to what exactly each government is doing and how they are controlling the internet population. Privacy rights are held and valued highly especially among western culture countries, and the worry that governments invade people’s privacy is frowned on by organizations protecting both privacy and free speech. According to Ben Emmerson, who is a special Rapporteur for the United Nations on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, "States need to squarely confront the fact that mass surveillance programs effectively do away with the right to online privacy altogether". He continued to criticize the legality of interfering with online privacy, and that governments should be compliant to their local privacy laws, in a statement, whilst addressing the General Assembly body of the United Nations, when discussing cultural, social and humanitarian issues. Should governments continue with these programs, it might indeed be a detriment on both privacy and free speech of the online world, as the users do not exactly understand how governments plan to gather information of them, and how they are going to use the information gathered.
Accountability of governments for the implementation of both, the gathering information of internet users, and the surveillance of their citizens, is virtually non-existent, as some governments which are thought to be implementing such programs are not willing to admit they are actually engaging in them. Unjustified censorship and bans on the internet, carried out by governmental institutions and law enforcement are result of these surveillances, in most cases. Perhaps some of them are defendable, and on good legal grounds, still some of the censorship happening on the internet is difficult to explain.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it is vital for online free speech to preserve “the internet’s open architecture”, but governmental law drafting tendencies are against this, and even pretend that the internet is subject of higher and stricter control by authorities. The effects of censoring the internet, and the implementation of new laws which enable governments to justify their interference are devastating for its potential use and development possibilities. On the other side it is true that some improvement on internet regulations might do some good, but it seems that the approach of governments is more disruptive than constructive.
As a defender of Human and Citizens Rights, Citizens Right Watch wishes to make the following statement on the issue:
All Governments and States should be respectful of pre-existing local Privacy Laws and Free Speech normative. Citizens should be informed and clarified of the way governments pretend to engage in controlling their online activity, and gathering information of users whilst on the Internet. If authorities are translucent with both their objectives and their approach to the surveillance of their Citizens, Citizens will have better chances to defend of their privacy and free speech rights, be law abiding whenever there meet their legal obligations, and also to make informed decisions, thus, enabling them to seek remedies whenever they deem that their online privacy is violated.