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[liberationtech] As Internet Freedom Defender, US Keen on Protecting IP Rights

Yosem Companys companys at
Fri Mar 8 01:45:52 PST 2013

US As Defender Of Internet Freedom, Keen On Protecting IP Rights

By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch on 08/03/2013 @ 12:47 am

For the third year in a row, the United States mission to the United
Nations in Geneva brought together human rights activists from
different parts of the world in an effort to promote internet freedom.
At a press briefing, a senior US State Department official described
efforts to address challenges to freedom on the internet, and said
that intellectual property in the context of internet is a complicated

The Internet Freedom Fellows program [1], whose first round dates back
to 2011, is organising events in Geneva, Washington DC, and Stanford
University (California), from 4-15 March.

The aim of the programme is to bring “human rights activists from
across the globe to Geneva, Washington, and Silicon Valley to meet
with fellow activists, U.S. and international government leaders, and
members of civil society and the private sector engaged in technology
and human rights.,” according to the US mission website.

On 7 March, Alec Ross, senior advisor on innovation to the US
Secretary of State, was at a press briefing on securing human rights
online. “Internet freedom has become a real pillar of US foreign
policy priorities,” he said. Universal rights, freedom of expression,
freedom of association and assembly, and a free press should be
exercised on the internet, he said, adding that unfortunately, over
the years “internet has become an environment not merely competitive
but increasingly conflict ridden.”

“Too many governments around the world view the empowerment of
citizens as coming at their own expense and they fear the loss of
control which comes with connectivity,” Ross said. “In the face of
this, the US stands resolute in favour of an open internet and
protecting the freedoms of expression association and assembly on line
as well as off line,” he added.

Asked about what the US was doing to increase freedom on the internet,
Ross said that over the last four years, about US$100 million was
spent developing technologies to allow people to exercise their
universal rights. Most of about a dozen projects are classified except
for two, he said.

One of the projects is the Commotion (Wireless) programme, he said.
This has been dubbed by as the “internet in a suitcase,” and is a
project run by the Open Technology Initiative at the New America
Foundation. “It is a response to countries as Iran and Egypt, who in
the face of dissent literally turned down or slowed down the internet
and global networks,” he said. The Commotion Wireless [2] is a
technology is described as “an open source ‘device-as-infrastructure’
distributed communications platform that integrates users’ existing
cell phones, WiFi-enabled computers, and other WiFi-capable personal
devices to create a metro-scale peer-to-peer (mesh) communications
network,” on the Open Technology Initiative webpage.

Another project, Ross said, is nicknamed “The panic button” in
response to some situations in which people are arrested, their mobile
phones confiscated, and then they are tortured to obtain all their
passwords, so that their texts, emails, and address book become a
guidebook to resistance. For instance, in Iran in 2009, he said,
mobile phones became a point of “remarkable vulnerability for people
trying to freely express themselves.”

The panic button is “something that if you think you are in the danger
of being arrested … you can key in a code and it wipes and stores your
communications and your address book to the cloud in a way that it
cannot be keyed out,” he said. The protocol also sends a stress signal
to a pre-identified network of individuals to tell them the person has
been arrested, he said.

Kathleen Reen, vice president for global initiatives at Internews [3],
a non-profit organisation aimed at empowering local media, said at the
briefing that it is important that human rights advocates be protected
and so protections should be in place, they should be shared and
affordable. “Most people in the world do not have access to a credit
card and cannot afford the kind of top line services that large media
outlets have to stay safe and secure online,” she said.

IP and Internet Complicated Issue

In the US, nine million Americans got involved in a campaign because
they did not want two legislative bills against online piracy, he
said, because “it would have disrupted the way that the internet
works.” He was referring to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the
Protect IP Act (PIPA), both of which raised a vast campaign against
their introduction that led to the Congress withdrawing them. In that
case, he said, the public played a very influential role determining
how the internet would be governed. He said he thinks the same kind of
dynamic is going to play out in much of the rest of the world.

Copyright and Freedom: It’s Complicated

On a question about the intersection of copyright and freedom on the
internet, Ross said “reconciling IP rights with the way internet works
is very difficult.” “The posture of the US is that the laws in the
real world should extend into the online world,” he said.

“We are champions of protecting IP,” Ross said, adding that “the line
that was drawn by President Obama was that we will protect IP but the
way that he articulated it following SOPA and PIPA was that, so long
as is does not undermine people’s ability to freely express

“If you look at the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), ACTA
(Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and other treaties, or pieces of
proposed legislation, what it seeks to do is to protect IP without
undermining the way that the internet works, but this is going to be
an increasingly complicated issue over the next couple of years,” he

Both ACTA and the TPP have raised serious concerns among civil
society, which have vehemently criticised the potential consequences
of those agreements.

Internet platform companies need to partner with entertainment
companies, he said, calling in example the Northern California and
Southern California industries. There should be industry partnerships
between platform companies which are the distribution channels for the
content and the entertainment.

Geopolitical Power Shift, Future of Internet

There is a massive shift in geopolitical power taking place in the
world, Ross said. Not the presumed shift happening on a geographic
basis like the global North and the global South, but rather “there is
a shifting power in most of the 196 countries in the world and that is
a shift of power from hierarchies like governments and large media
companies, to citizens and networks of citizens,” and technology is
facilitating this shift, he said.

According to Reen, one of the biggest challenges in the internet
sphere is the participation of civil society and the ability of
citizens to have a voice at the table in determining what the future
of the internet actually looks like.

Internet is in many ways owned by everybody, she said, and the
challenge is that the governments alone cannot solve the question of
how the internet will be governed. This will entail a larger community
at the table, she said.

Newly networked countries, such as Ukraine and Thailand who are
beginning to form the internet policies in their countries will have a
lot of influence in determining what the future of internet is going
to look like, Ross said. “Is the internet going to be one global
network or is it going to be a patchwork of national intranets,” he
asked. That is not going just to be decided by large countries such as
the US, Russia and China, but increasingly by those newly networked
countries, he said.

This year’s fellows [1]in the Internet Freedom Fellow Program this
year are: Grigory Okhotin, independent journalist and co-founder of
the grassroots police monitoring organization OVD-info; Mac-Jordan
Degadjor, Ghanaian social blogger, writer, IT professional and digital
activist; Michael Anti, (Jing Zhao 赵静), Chinese journalist and
political blogger; Edetaen Ojo, executive director of Media Rights
Agenda, Usamah Mohamed, activist and citizen journalist from Sudan;
Bronwen Robertson, research manager and editor for Small Media in

URL to article:

URLs in this post:

[1] Internet Freedom Fellows program:
[2] Commotion Wireless:
[3] Internews:
[4] New UN Human Rights Council Resolution On Internet Rights:
[5] Internet Freedom At Home: Governments, Companies Need
Accountability, Speakers Say:
[6] European Human Rights Court: Internet Restriction Violates Freedom
Of Expression:
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