Rebecca MacKinnon: No Quick Fixes for Internet Freedom

In the Wall Street Journal, Rebecca MacKinnon writes about efforts to promote Internet freedom in Washington and the politics involved:

In a growing number of countries including China, domestic Internet companies are enlisted in this effort through regulatory pressures. Laws and mechanisms originally meant to enforce copyright, protect children and fight online crime are abused to silence or intimidate political critics.

In real life, conceiving and implementing an effective set of policies, programs, and tools for promoting a free and open global Internet requires hard work by both the public and private sectors. This work has barely begun.

A range of fast-evolving technical problems requires an array of solutions. Activists around the world need technical assistance and training in order to fight cyber-attacks more effectively. We need more coordination between human rights activists, technology companies and policy makers just to understand the problems, and how they can be expected to evolve in the next few years.

What’s more, existing research indicates that many of the problems aren’t technical, but rather political, legal, regulatory and even social. Other obstacles to free expression are probably best addressed by the private sector: Social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter should be urged to adhere to business practices that maximize the safety of activists using their platforms.