Strong free internet policy requires trust
The United States has offered contradictory approaches to internet freedom, which has created a murky future in regards to policy going forward.
The United Nation's Deceleration of Human Rights states that it looks to create "a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people."
This aspiration is an ambitious one, but something that should not be taken lightly. It promotes an idea of freedom that stems from the belief that an individual should be able to say and believe what he or she would like, without fear of the repercussions from a governing body, These are ideas that sparked a revolution that led to the founding of the U.S., and further inspired action against authoritative rule in the Middle East during the Arab Spring.
As a member of the UN's Security Council, the U.S. holds an especially important role in the promotion of the Declaration of Human Rights. While many countries are still entering the internet world, the U.S. has been there since its inception and for this reason, has a unique responsibility to pave the way for internet freedom throughout the world.
Recent internet freedom track record
Recent leaks have revealed the extent to which the American government has been monitoring its citizens – and as more information came out, the more scary and invading it looked. According to The Verge, the government's PRISM program allowed the National Security Administration direct access to the servers of commonly used sites like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other commonly used websites. This program effectively enables the government to view personal emails and other personal information of citizens.
It is widely reported that the information was leaked by Edward Snowden, a former government contactor, who provided the information to the Guardian and Washington Post news outlets, and was subsequently deemed a spy. Snowden has been on the run since the leaks in June, only recently finding asylum in Russia, a country whose freedom of speech record has not been particularly spotless itself, with the the Pussy Riot case in February of 2012 being among the biggest headlines.
The U.S. State Department internet freedom website states, "our work on Internet freedom is grounded in international commitments to free expression and the free flow of information as fundamental human rights."
This creates an odd dynamic in light of the recent PRISM leaks, and Snowden's need to seek asylum in a country that has a historically bad track record for these exact violations. In this situation, wouldn't the leaks that he put forth to news outlets be entailed in the "free flow of information" the State Department speaks of?
One problem is that the digital age is still relatively new, when compared to other forms of expression such as the press. This means that while the country has been a pioneer in internet policy, there is still a lot to be learned. The free and open nature of the internet is not something that government, be it the U.S. or any other country's, should be free to take advantage of, which means that there needs to be a more open dialog.
A recent story in Forbes, explains that for their to be a truly free and open internet, there needs to be trusted relationships between policy makers and internet users, which the PRISM scandal certainly reveals there is not. It also explains that the rigid distinction between the two needs to be torn down. In today's digital world, policy makers use the internet, and internet users help dictate policy.
If for no other reason, the ongoing Snowden discussion has brought these questions to the forefront. It has shown that the online community, which now is most of the United States and the rest of the world, is not going to sit passively by while their rights are violated, and that the United States government needs to reevaluate the policy it takes towards online freedoms.