Thursday, 19 April 2012

To protect Internet freedom

Birgitta Jónsdóttir,
Wednesday 18 April 2012 10.00 BST
Political consultant Naomi Wolf speaks at a news
conference in New York last month announcing a lawsuit against indefinite
detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act. Photograph:
viewpress Vp/Demotix/Corbis
Freedom for most people is something sacred, and
many have been willing to sacrifice their lives for it. It is not just another
word, for we measure the health of our democracies by the standard of freedom.
We use it to measure our happiness and prosperity. Sadly, freedom of
information, expression and speech is being eroded gradually without people paying much attention to it.
Freedom of movement is permitted within certain zones, freedom of reading is disappearing, and the right to privacy is
dwindling with the increased surveillance of our every move.
When the world wide web came into being, it was an
unrestricted, free flowing world of creativity, connectivity and close
encounters of the internet kind. It was as if the collective consciousness had
taken on material (yet virtual!) form and people soon learned to use it to
work, play and gather. Today's social and democratic reform is born and bred
online where people can freely exchange views and knowledge. Some of us
old-school internet freedom fighters understood this value way before the web
became such a part of our daily lives. One of them is John Perry Barlow, who in
1996 wrote a Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in a response to an
attempt to legalise restrictions on this brand new world. In it he declares:
"Governments of the industrial world, you weary giants of flesh and steel,
I come from Cyberspace, the new home of mind. On behalf of the future, I ask
you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no
sovereignty where we gather."
Barlow inspired me and others to create the
Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI),
a parliamentary proposal unanimously approved by the Icelandic parliament in
2010, tasking the government to make Iceland a safe haven for freedom of
information and expression, where privacy online would be as sacred and guarded
as it is in the real world. The spirit of IMMI is in stark contrast with the
serious attacks we are currently faced with. We have legal monsters like Acta, Sopa, Pipa and
now Cispa; we
have anti-terrorist acts abused to tear these liberties apart; we have armies
of corporate lawyers scrutinising every bit of news prior to it getting out to
us before we ever get to know the real stories that should remain in the public
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The US
government legally hacks into other nations' parliamentary
private social media data because it is stored on servers originating in the
US, as in my Twitter case. The infamous EU data retention law is making us all
into terrorist subjects by default, and now we have the newest addition in a
dangerous cocktail of erosion of civil liberties online with the offline
reality: meet the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), also known
as the Homeland Battlefield Act. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
describes it thus:
"For the first time in American history, we
have a law authorising the worldwide and indefinite military detention of
people captured far from any battlefield. The NDAA has no temporal or
geographic limitations. It is completely at odds with our values, violates the
constitution, and corrodes our nation's commitment to the rule of law."
Since the US department of justice is ploughing my private data and WikiLeaks (whom I volunteered for in
2010 by co-producing Collateral Murder) are defined by the US vice-president as
cyberterrorists, I felt under direct threat when NDAA was passed. I have not
been able to travel to the US for more than a year under advice from the
Icelandic state department. The only way for me to go is on a UN visa (the same
kind as Gaddafi and Hussein got when going to the UN) when I plan to attend the
UN assembly later this year. Basically what NDAA means is that the US military
can put anyone, anywhere under the suspicion of being a terror threat or an
associate and detain you for ever, without you having access to a lawyer or a
court. So I joined Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg and other
activists in suing the United States government to stop the implementation of
the NDAA. Naomi Wolf was kind enough to read my testimony
at a US court last month, since I could not be there in person.
The good news is that cyberspace is full of hacktivists and our
offline world has a growing Occupy movement,
inspiring all of us into action, co-creating a different reality in the spirit
of a true online and offline freedom.
© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its
affiliated companies.

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