Since the printing press, no technology has had a greater capacity than the Internet for individual empowerment, economic development, and human expression.
How telling then that, while countries around the world are devoting precious resources to expanding their citizens’ access to the Internet, Russia is doing the opposite.
Just yesterday, Russia’s Parliament passed a package of new restrictions on blogging and the Internet, a potent legislative cocktail of regression and repression.
It is part of a pattern. Russian-backed militias operating in Ukraine have been detaining legitimate journalists and knocking down television towers to block the truth from getting out. While the world celebrated the Internet’s potential for positive change at NETmundial, Russia isolated itself by objecting to the principles and ideals of Internet freedom.
Not satisfied by its stranglehold on traditional media, the Russian government has lunged at digital media, one of the last bastions of independent voices in Russia. While so many will be commemorating World Press Freedom Day on Saturday, Moscow forced the founder of its largest social network, Pavel Durov, to flee after he had refused to disclose personal information about the protesters in Ukraine’s Euromaidan.
As I said on Monday when I spoke via the Internet to the Freedom Online Coalition’s Conference in Estonia, actions to squelch free expression reflect a government’s basic insecurity everywhere and anywhere it happens. Open societies understand that a free and open press, including the Internet, is vital to holding governments accountable.
As someone who spent two years of my own life as a young veteran trying to end a war, I believe in dissent and I love that in my country, we welcome dissent. But make no mistake — as someone who has been in public life for four decades, it doesn’t mean I think every story I read is fair — or accurate — or balanced. I’ve got the scars to show it. But, what’s important is, I believe our values must be strong enough to withstand criticism. Together, we must remind authoritarian states everywhere that the Internet is not a tool of oppression — it is a tool of growth, freedom and transparency.
In today’s world, there’s no sustainable way for a country to seal itself off electronically by dropping an iron curtain on the Internet. No one can hide behind a wall of 1s and 0s.
- Source: DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State