Biggest defenders of press freedom for 2013
There were a number of events over the course of the year that had both positive and negative outcomes for the state of online freedom around the globe. However, one element that cannot be overlooked is the role that Internet activists have played in bringing these issues to the forefront.
The Internet is a complex network of connections that brings humans and devices together in ways that have never been seen before. This allows users to access vital information, communicate with one another and learn about the various goings on in countries around the world. These capabilities are very empowering and liberating for individuals, which can pose a problem for some who are in power.
A number of events and actions over the course of the year highlight just how aware both individuals and ruling bodies are of the power of the Internet. The Chinese government has continued to extend its massive firewall and censorship policies throughout cyberspace, Iran has detained numerous journalists and netizens despite saying it would make greater efforts to broaden internet access for its citizens, while surveillance programs in the United States and around the world have greatly violated citizens' privacy. While these actions are quite alarming, there have been a number of individuals working to fight against these oppressive practices.
Biggest Internet defenders
Because of these oppressive actions by governments and other bodies, a number of individuals have worked to defend the rights of individual citizens online around the world. The Daily Dot recently published a list of the ten most influential Internet freedom activists during 2013. While many of them had ties to the Edward Snowden leaks and PRISM scandal, there were other major activists included on the list.
One of the biggest of 2013 was Aaron Swartz. Swartz was the victim of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which the news source deems the worst law in technology. He was one of the major contributors to popular online presences including Reddit and Creative Commons. However, he is probably most known for his hacking of the MIT JSTOR database, making knowledge that was previously held behind paywalls available for everyone. Unfortunately, because these actions were in violation of the CFAA, Swartz faced 35 years in prison and $250,000 in fines, which contributed to his suicide in January.
Another major figure, or figures, was the anonymous party who helped leak the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. This document came under fire recently not only because of the content included, which would force a number of countries to take on stricter copyright laws, but because it was an agreement that being parsed out behind closed doors.
The PRISM scandal
While these two activists played huge roles in promoting Internet freedom, the year's biggest story was undoubtedly the Edward Snowden leaks, which brought the NSA's extensive online surveillance program to the surface. Predictably so, this made Edward Snowden the number one online activist of the year for the Daily Dot, however, there were a number of other prominent figures involved with working to bring down this program.
One was Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore). Wyden has been a particularly active watchdog when it comes to the NSA. The news source noted that before Snowden had even leaked the NSA documents, Wyden asked the Director of National Intelligence if the NSA collected data by the millions about American citizens. Though the director answered no, it indicated that there were people in Congress looking to fight for greater transparency in the U.S.
As 2013 comes to close, the future of Internet freedom still seems quite murky. Fortunately through the efforts of these individuals and many others like them, these oppressive actions are being kept in check.