John, a colleague on the SLENZ project sent me a transcript of a speech by Viviane Reding to the European Parliament in Feb, Freedom of speech: ICT must help, not hinder. I found the speech both troubling and encouraging.

But for others, living in authoritarian countries, the Internet is primarily the most important vehicle to express and share political views which are minority views in their own country, or which oppose the political regime.

To me, the simplistic views of “authoritarianism, oppression and expressive freedom” are troubling when they come across as they do – regurgitated political ideology being projected onto scape-goat nations without in depth consideration of the practical absence of the same ideals in the countries that project them. The usual response to such a claim is “we in the west have it good, would you rather live in Burma? You should not complain”… but we only have it good if we are comparing ourselves to the “other”. Take away that comparison with others and we are left only with what we can know – ourselves, and with more introspection on the issue of freedom, we might see that the west is oppressed by authoritarianism of a different and more insidious kind, and that we effectively lack any real capacity to express ourselves, or more importantly – communicate. This is sadly represented in the second sentence of the third paragraph in that speech:

In developed economies, many of us avail ourselves of blogs and photo sharing services to inform the world simply about our favourite movies and recipes or to show some holiday pictures.

As time goes on, that insightful little movie from the SLOAN Foundation, EPIC2014 becomes more and more prophetic. “It is the best of times, it is the worst of times”.

On the other hand this speech is encouraging. It is encouraging that the subject of Internet freedom is being spoken about in those rooms of impotent statesmen and women. At the very least, and for whatever its worth, some of us can know that we have some form of solidarity with some political figure heads, and that the inevitable slide into lost freedom is slowed for just a while, while people take the time to reiterate certain values. To that end this speech makes direct challenges on things like our censorship culture in western states, oppressive laws like DOPA and Section 92a, and restrictions on our freedoms in the various forms of Internet service prioritisation or non-neutrality.

…free flow of information on the Internet is protected in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom to “receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.

Thanks John, it was interesting to stop and read it.