The war on free speech

John Naughton writes:

‘Never waste a good crisis” used to be the catchphrase of the Obama team in the runup to the presidential election. In that spirit, let us see what we can learn from official reactions to the WikiLeaks revelations.

The most obvious lesson is that it represents the first really sustained confrontation between the established order and the culture of the internet. There have been skirmishes before, but this is the real thing.

And as the backlash unfolds – first with deniable attacks on internet service providers hosting WikiLeaks, later with companies like Amazon and eBay and PayPal suddenly “discovering” that their terms and conditions preclude them from offering services to WikiLeaks, and then with the US government attempting to intimidate Columbia students posting updates about WikiLeaks on Facebook – the intolerance of the old order is emerging from the rosy mist in which it has hitherto been obscured. The response has been vicious, co-ordinated and potentially comprehensive, and it contains hard lessons for everyone who cares about democracy and about the future of the net.

There is a delicious irony in the fact that it is now the so-called liberal democracies that are clamouring to shut WikiLeaks down.

Consider, for instance, how the views of the US administration have changed in just a year. On 21 January, secretary of state Hillary Clinton made a landmark speech about internet freedom, in Washington DC, which many people welcomed and most interpreted as a rebuke to China for its alleged cyberattack on Google. “Information has never been so free,” declared Clinton. “Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.”

She went on to relate how, during his visit to China in November 2009, Barack Obama had “defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity.” Given what we now know, that Clinton speech reads like a satirical masterpiece.

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4 thoughts on “The war on free speech

  1. Vince J

    I never believe a word coming from War Criminals.
    I never believe a word coming from the WH.
    I never believe a word coming from Israel.
    I never believe a word coming from the Pentagon, who has yet to show us the footage of a 757 hitting the Building.
    I never listen to anyone in the Obama administration. Obama speaking and dog defecating in Washington DC means the same thing.

  2. Christopher Hoare

    Excellent exposure of the hypocrisy of the so-called progressive wing of the US assassination drone of state. Nothing said in the past in the speeches of Obama and H Clinton are shown to have been true – so we are warned never to believe them in the future.
    But let’s not forget that their opponents have been shown equally deceitful. How can an honest American vote for any of these people in the future? Democracy has fallen at the jump, it would appear. Who will rise up to restore it? 2012 needs to be a massive house cleaning.

  3. John Somebody

    The points made by Christopher just go to show, that the choice between Demonocrat, and Repugnant, is like the choice between being shot in the head, and stabbed in the back. And if some nice liberal wants by comparison, to merely punch you on the nose, are you going to vote for him/her/it ? If you have the choice between Typhoid, and Cholera, even if there’s some outsider chance, of getting Influenza, instead, are you really going to vote for it ?
    The choice offered, is a false choice. The real choice, not offered, but one which you can take, is the choice between any of the variations, on the one hand, and personal integrity, on the other. Screw the lot of ’em.
    But that’s not the same as being selfish. For the real alternative to work, we have to respect everyone else, who chooses to defend integrity. And that means being considerate to people who do not try to deprive us of integrity. That way we can have a harmonious, co – operative society. That way we won’t be divided, and conquered.
    And please don’t be fooled by those who tell us, that anarchy equals confusion. When we become confused, as individuals, we can learn, and overcome it. That’s unless we delegate responsibility, to someone else. When it’s not our decision, we stop learning from it going wrong. That’s when confusion becomes entrenched, and institutionalised. That’s when we become divided, and conquered.

  4. Rick

    Some criticisms, from the specific to the general:

    1. Please don’t sacrifice fact-checking to “fast-twitch” blogging. You propagate a falsehood, by quoting this claim by John Naughton:

    “the US government [is] attempting to intimidate Columbia students posting updates about WikiLeaks on Facebook”. FALSE.

    2. Overall, the excerpt from Naughton’s post generates more misplaced emotional heat than accurate and insightful light.

    Example: “[Wikileaks] represents the first really sustained confrontation between the established order and the culture of the internet. There have been skirmishes before, but this is the real thing.”

    Bullshit. Naughton should recall the “Crypto Wars” of the 1990s,
    when 3 NSA agents visited Jim Bidzos, CEO of RSA Data Security,
    and one agent threatened to kill him. That June 1994 incident was an
    in-person death threat, accompanied by what Jim characterized as,
    “a staring contest. He was quite intense.” If you survive,
    does that make it a “skirmish”, versus “the real thing”?

    (Prosecutions for copyright infringement, raids on private homes, and confiscation of computer equipment by “fishing expeditions” were rampant in the 1990s.)

    And to assert a single, unified, “THE culture of the internet”?
    Sounds like something a Master of Nuance — like G.W. Bush — would say.

    3. Naughton’s column was typical of *reaction* (vs. analysis) to
    Wikileaks by both proponents and opponents — a few quality insights,
    drowning in a large quantity of emotional rhetoric and distorting,
    simplistic spin. (If it “feels-good”, that’s a warning sign that
    you spun the facts to “prove” your comforting theory, rather than
    doing the hard work of upgrading your theory into a more widely-shared
    vehicle to carry those facts.)

    *Please* read a far better analysis (including worthwhile comments)
    of Hillary Clinton’s “Landmark Speech about Internet Freedom” here:

    4. The current Wikileaks situation is a classic case of *Info-WAR*.
    That means our perceptions and judgements are clouded by a
    “FOG OF Info-WAR” — and we are struggling with (MIS-?)Information-Overload.

    Personally, I believe the mission of an “Info-War in Context” site —
    “to apply critical intelligence in an arena where political judgment
    has repeatedly been twisted by blind emotions” — is best served by
    avoiding the “fast-twitch” emotional temptation to feed “consumers”
    a steady stream of “fast-food for knee-jerk thought”.
    (Many other websites already do that. Why cater to *polarized* readers?)

    Better to take time, and sleep on the vast QUANTITY of others’ writings,
    until they synthesize into some QUALITY frameworks and Contexts.
    How to recognize “Quality”? Perhaps because it supports “shared meaning”,
    and helps us “stem cultural divisions”. (E.g, open 1 previously-closed
    mind at Small Wars Journal, and you plant an important seed.)

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