Rethinking the Freedom of the Internet

Free, the Internet should be, freedom to express oneself, is the standard thinking of most people. No one should be able to censor content. All should be able to read whatever they wish, whatever they can find. China, with their “Great Firewall of China”, does censor content for their 1.4B citizens, and is widely condemned for their radical actions. I am rethinking censorship of the Internet. In light of the rise of ISIS and other terrorist organizations maybe we should consider censorship for certain situations.

Propaganda is nothing new. In Chinese their translation is 洗脑, to “wash the brain”. Propaganda has always been crucial in China’s recent history, and continues to be used heavily by the Communist Party of China. Maybe because they know the importance of propaganda that they have opted to censor content. Maybe we are downplaying the importance of propaganda and its effects on our fellow world citizens.

There is no question that ISIS has grown by leaps and bounds within the last 10 years. They seem to be able to reach into all countries and tap into a deep seated need for their cause in some young people. They can do this because we have created an amazingly efficient communications tool, called the Internet, that allows them to reach potential recruits all the way into their bedrooms, ISIS recruiter direct to potential recruit. How can we let this happen?

We all use the Internet to do research and broaden our knowledge of the things around us. We use Youtube to learn about products, to take things apart and repair them, and to amuse ourselves. We appreciate this openness and would hate for anyone to restrict our content.

ISIS is using the openness of the Internet to spread its recruitment propaganda throughout the world. With the help of free online tools such as Skype an ISIS recruiter can talk directly to a potential recruit anywhere in the world. Parents have a difficult time protecting their kids against this type of communication. Coupled with the well known tactics of propaganda, ISIS is able to win over the hearts of certain individuals in foreign countries, all without leaving their homes in Iran or Syria. How exactly they do this, their recruitment tactics and propaganda, I do not know, but by all accounts, they are successful. The tactic is brilliant. Contact and recruit people in foreign Western countries to further the ISIS cause, train them on what to do, then have them wreak havoc in their own country. There are no messy planes to catch, border controls to go through, security leaks to prevent. It is all very tidy.

Foreign countries will have a very difficult time containing these home grown recruits, as the danger is from within. Each citizen is potentially a recruit, so how can a government prevent such an attack?

Clearly the misuse of the Internet to further the cause of ISIS needs to stop, but how? As the Internet is a global network, a solution needs to be global in nature. Here are some possible steps:

  1. UN Involvement: The UN needs to consider Internet censorship rules. These rules can be the basis for censorship of content that would prevent the dissemination of such things like ISIS propaganda.
  2. UN Mechanism required to maintain a worldwide ban list: There needs to be a way to ban certain sites. There also needs to be some way for those that are banned to have their sites removed. A ban list needs to be updateable on an instantaneous basis.
  3. Countries need to deploy these rules. This is no easy task. While China has only a few very large servers that filter content for the whole country, this is not the case for Western countries. All servers that have access to the Internet would need to deploy this level of censorship
  4. Browsers need to have a plugin tool to access the UN ban list and prevent content from appearing.

There is no doubt that Western countries wish to eradicate ISIS. Without a way of countering their propaganda, ISIS recruitment will continue unabated, rotting Western countries from within. It is clear that technology is not yet sophisticated enough to sift through and prevent this, even for the well funded US CIA and Homeland Security groups.

The downside is that personal privacy is at risk. Our own governments are spying on us and there is a fine line between ensuring country-wide security and the breach of individual privacy. Currently there is a slight risk of ISIS recruitment through the Internet. We cannot give up our individual freedoms to our own governments in order to mitigate this risk. Which would be worse? Having a huge government security apparatus that monitors all communications of it’s citizens is a clear breach of individual privacy. We can thank Edward Snowden for exposing us to the US version.

Clearly something needs to be done. How we do it and how much individual privacy we must give up in order to have national security remains to be seen. The genie is out of the bottle and will never again be contained. We need to adapt not the technology but the policies that govern it. As usual, it is humans that have messed things up.

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