Tag Archives: free speech

Wikileaks, free speech and traditional media

I find it fascinating how US government has chosen to try to dismantle the support network that makes wikileaks possible – pressuring paypal, amazon and numerous others into refusing to enable wikileaks to work.

They have pressured pretty much every stakeholder with one exception. The traditional media.

Why does the US government rail against wikileaks and pressure paypal and yet is silent about the New York Times involvement? (or the Guardian’s or the other media partners involved?). The NYT had advance access to the materials, they helped publicize it and, in the case of the Guardian, have been helping users get access to the wikileak documents when wikileaks website went down.

This fact, above all else, demonstrates the weakness the government’s legal case. They aren’t going after those who have a clear mission and the (legal) capacity to protect themselves. They are trying to go after those who can be pressured. This is not a sign of confidence. This is a shakedown. More importantly, it is a sign of weakness.

The fact that organizations like Amazon and Paypal have caved so quickly should also be a red flag for anyone who care about free speech. Essentially, these companies have conceded that – regardless of whether you break the law or not – if the government tells them to not serve you so that you can operate on the net, they will kick you off their platforms. As one great tweet put it: “If Amazon is uncomfortable with free speech they should get out of the book business.”

I see three outcomes from all this.

Winner: Traditional media. They establish one area where they have a competitive advantage: the capacity to marshal legal forces to not only protect their free speech rights, but to pre-emptively prevent the government from even contemplating attacking them. That’s powerful stuff, especially in a world where governments not appear happy to not attack those they disagree with directly but simply attempt to shut down the infrastructure that enables them.

Loser: Paypal, Amazon and others who caved. Maybe the long term effect of this will be negligible but it is also possible that a number of people who are choosing their cloud computing provider right now will be looking at Google which (eventually) stood up to China and Amazon, which caved like a house of cards at the mere breadth of dissatisfaction from the US government. Do you really want a company that is that susceptible to outside pressure running a core component of your business?

Biggest Loser: The US government. The worse part of the US government’s strategy of shutting down Wikileaks is it is has made the story (and the organization) more popular and better known. But more importantly it is counterproductive. Watching the US government deal with wikileaks is like watching the record labels try to fight Napster in the 1990s. Even if you win the battle, you will lose the war. Even if wikileaks gets shut down, 10 more lookalikes will pop up in its place, some of which will be more mainstream (and so harder to discredit) and others which will be more radical (and so more damaging). So all the US government has managed to do is make itself look like China when it comes to the rule of law, the governance of the internet, and the issue of censorship. You don’t have to be a rocket scientists to see the hypocrisy of the US government encouraging Twitter to not do maintenance during the Green Revolution in Iran so that people can communicate, while busily trying to shut down Wikileaks when the internet and network communication doesn’t serve its own interests. The US has damaged its brand and credibility with little to show for gains.

In the end, the system will react (it already has) and this will prompt new infrastructure on the net that better protects freedom of speech and places the capacity to control content even further beyond the reach of governments. There are downsides to all this, including the havoc of organizations like wikileaks can wreak on businesses and governments, but from a free speech perspective, it will be a good thing.

21st Century Olympics

Just resting now after a few wild days closing off out the Olympics.

My sense is that, despite the grumblings of the UK press (which has some pretty good reasons to set the bar low), these Olympics will get good marks. Athletes got to venues on time, the infrastructure was able to handle the crowds and people had fun. For Canadians there were the added benefits of owning the podium working and, of course, a gold medal in hockey. Things did go wrong, but they were in largely beyond the control of the organizers (it would be great if we could make it snow or stop an El Nino but happily, we can’t) or – in the case of the Olympic Cauldron – they were dealt with.

I had a number of wonderful experiences. I was able to be at the Canada-Russia game. I met a few athletes, even saw a few medalists – and was (very generously) given 5th row tickets to the men’s hockey bronze medal games by Bryce Davidson. I held an Olympics torch, saw the Stanley Cup and got to see the fireworks display at LiveCity in Yaletown. Moreover, I get to ride the Canada Line – the subway to Richmond and the Airport that was built for the Olympics – almost everyday.

All this to say – I had a great time.

But having witnessed two weeks of Olympics I can help but feel there is an underlying challenge for the Olympics – one that emerges from the security concerns of a post-September 11th world and the Olympic Committees obsession with ensuring that only its sponsors are able to advertise, broadcast or even talk about the Olympics.

As technology improves the capacity of the Olympics to prevent people from broadcasting live from the Olympics is going to become increasingly challenging. The Olympics is maybe one of the best examples of an entire jurisdiction being controled so that – to paraphrase Lawrence Lessig – a legal structure, as opposed to technology, becomes the limit free speech and expression. Increasingly, truly free societies may begin to balk at the restrictions the IOC wishes to place not just on corporations but on citizens who are hosting the games. This is also true of the security required to host theses events. The Winter Olympics are relatively small and – security he was very present but not overwhelming. But only by post-September 11th standards. The fact is that, unlike in Calgary, today the venues are fenced off and secured – leaving the Olympics at times feeling a little more like a G20 event than a celebration. Or perhaps, to be more fair, there are really two Olympics – that going on behind the fence, and the rest taking place in the city.

In short, I begin to wonder how many communities – especially those within liberal democracies where individual rights are well established – are going to want to bid on the Olympics. Perhaps the biggest risk is that the IOC, in a bid to sustain its business model, will find itself increasingly having to partner with cities in countries with perhaps not the strongest human rights or democratic standards precisely because it is only those places that can enforce the rules (both in terms of safety and licensing) that that IOC will demand.

I think Vancouver avoided the security excesses people feared about but it isn’t hard to see – looking at Vancouver – the dangerous direction the Olympics could be headed in. And that would be tragedy. Whatever people may say, the Olympics remain a powerful symbol for peace and global brotherhood. Moreover, if done right they can leave host cities with important legacy infrastructure projects (again – the Canada Line stands out). But if the business model of the Olympics mean that it must lock down the cities that host it the costs may simply become too high for most communities.

My sense is that a re-imagining of the Olympics business model is probably in order – one that will allow it to respond to the realities of a networked 21st century world and that re-balance safety concerns with the need to create an environment that is fun and open. Moreover, such a re-imagining would be a fantastic project – something that might revitalize the Olympics in other powerful ways – making it more open, accessible and inspiring, in short, an Olympics that is relevant and ready for the 21st century.

Headline: CBS opposed to free speech and an open internet!

It has been fun to watch the traditional media find new reasons to explain why they are indispensable and the internet our enemy. Previously, my favourite ‘story’ had been that traditional media (and newsprint in particular) are essential to democracy.

CBS however, seems to have found a new problem. Check out the line of questioning followed by the CBS reporter in this video as he interviews Jeff Jarvis. As he suggests, the internet clearly promotes some dangerous, unmediated “free speech.” Obviously this new medium must be monitored and mediated (perhaps by CBS?).

Who would have thought that CBS would one day – even implicitly – advocate censorship?

This should serve as another warning. The traditional media is simply not going to cover stories about how they and the large cable companies are trying to restructure the internet in their favour (by directing users like you to their content as opposed to the sites of their choice). Indeed, they are doing the opposite, building the case for why the ‘wild internet’ must be tamed and turned into an online gated communities.


Thank you to Taylor Owen for pointing my browser in this direction…

[tags]netneutrality, cbs, free speech[/tags]