Over the last few weeks, we’ve all witnessed the extraordinary bravery of protesters in Burma (or Myanmar, depending on whom you ask) and the great lengths to which the military junta has been willing to go to keep the world from knowing much about what was going on there. Many reported the story of how the junta “shut off” the Internet before they carried out some of the worst acts in the process of suppressing the demonstration. The ONI is today releasing a careful technical review that describes what in fact the military junta did, set in context of the demonstrations and the state’s history of Internet filtering. Stephanie Wang led the writing, and Shishir Nagaraja conducted the technical analysis. It’s the first time, with the exception of Nepal in 2005, that a state has sought to shut off access to the Internet altogether. The story of what they did, how, and when is fascinating, and upsetting, reading for anyone with an interest in the relationship between the Internet & democracy or the burgeoning citizens’ media movement.
Roby Alampay nails some of the key issues related to Internet governance and international law in an editorial today in the Washington Post. It’s well worth a read, especially if you’ve been following the Myanmar crackdown. Alampay also makes a key link: the issue of Internet access should be perceived to be a human rights issue, and one which those thinking about Internet governance ought to take up.
In relevant part: “States have come far in such discussions and in reaching some levels of consensus. International standards have greater impetus, evidently, when they seek to cap that which they perceive as threatening to the civilized world: child pornography, organized crime, terrorism, and SPAM. This much is understandable.
“What the international community has barely begun to discuss, however, is the other side of the dilemma: What should be the international standard on ensuring Internet accessibility and openness?
“The more compelling Internet story last week took place as far away from Europe as one can get. It was from Burma — via defiant blogs, emails, and phone-cam videos posted online — that the world witnessed the other argument: that when it comes to the Internet (and all forms of media, for that matter) ‘standards’ is a legitimate topic not only with respect to limiting the medium’s (and its users’) potential harm, but more importantly in setting and keeping the medium (and its users) free.”
This morning — at the Summer Doctoral Program in Cambridge, MA — we’re taking up the topic of Internet filtering and the work of the ONI (and what we’ve written about in our forthcoming book from MIT Press, called Access Denied). Some of the questions that students raised about the topic and after reading our work on it:
– One student says that her dad read a copy of Dr. Zhivago, censored at the time in his country, where each page was accessible to him only as a photograph. One of her points, I think, is that history repeats itself and we should understand how this story is a repeat and where it is new and different than previous stories of censorship. One student suggests, as a follow-up: let’s test the hypothesis that the Internet is revolutionary. A second of her points, I take it, is that people will figure ways around censorship in clever ways.
– How do you measure filtering of the Internet and then analyze what you’ve learned in a way that informs decision-making?
– How do you measure the impact of filtering on access to knowledge?
– Do we need to have ISPs that act like common carrier who do not ever filter?
– What is the role of large countries as neighbors to smaller countries, raised by the possibility of in-stream filtering?
– What is the role of the commercial filtering providers?
– How can we determine whether the practice of Internet filtering violates a universal right to access information?
– How can we study how copyright and trademark owners carry out filtering?
– Is there legitimate filtering? (A student posits: there is legitimate filtering, including via search engine. This concept invokes what Urs Gasser blogged about, provocatively, at the ONI conference about “best practices in Internet filtering.”)
– How do we study the circumvention piece and include it in our story? What about developing the tools of circumvention?
– How do you overlay cultural differences on this survey?
– To what extent does control of communications facilitate control of other institutions, tools, or otherwise? To what extent is control of communications a priority for a given authority?
– When does one state have the right and/or ability to influence what another state does in this domain?
The faculty and fellows of the Berkman Center will publish four books this year. Two of them are out already: David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous and John Clippinger’s A Crowd of One. In celebration of this high-water mark for the team, we’ve put together a new page on the Berkman web site called Berkman Books, which features most of the relevant books written by Berkman faculty and fellows since our founding nearly 10 years ago. We’ll keep it updated as new ones come online, such as the ONI‘s Access Denied (on Internet filtering) and Prof. Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It, both due out later this year.
One of the most provocative themes from yesterday’s ONI conference is captured by Prof. Dr. Urs Gasser in his blog: is there such a thing as best practices for technical Internet filtering? Richard Clayton said emphatically not; others seemed intrigued.
I couldn’t be more excited about the release today of our new ONI web site and the release of our first global study. We’re here in Oxford, England, at what my colleague Ron Deibert calls “the first ONI Woodstock, without the drugs.” The headline of the study is a substantial growth in the scale, scope and sophistication of Internet filtering worldwide, in 25 of the 41 states in which we tested.
We’re gearing up this week to host our first big Internet filtering conference this week, which is already oversubscribed. The event is taking place in Oxford, England, hosted by our partners at the Oxford Internet Institute, in cooperation with our other partners at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and the University of Cambridge’s Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme. At this event, we will release the full set of data from the first-ever global survey of Internet filtering. In many ways, this release is the culmination of five years of work, since the ONI partners began testing for Internet filtering back in about 2002. The work is thanks to a number of grants, most notably a $3 million grant to ONI from the MacArthur Foundation, as well as key gifts from OSI, IDRC, the Ford Foundation, and others.
Feel free to add a question for discussion to the online question tool.
An even more complete version of this story, including chapters that set the data in context, will appear in our book, Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Internet Politics, will be released this fall by MIT Press.
The OpenNet Initiative ran a series of tests related to Internet access during the recent elections in Nigeria. Though the election was fraught with issues generally, and though certain web sites were inaccessible during key moments of the election period, we found no evidence of tampering with the Internet. We’re in the process of refining our election monitoring capabilities, led by Rafal Rohozinski. We’ve posted a slightly more in-depth statement on the ONI blog.