By Laura Tribe
May 1, 2017
Why intellectual freedom relies on a free and open internet
This piece by our Laura Tribe was originally published by the BC Library Association.
OpenMedia has had the privilege of working and collaborating with the BC Library Association in different ways for many years, which is why it was an amazing honour for us to be recognized at the recent BC Library Conference with the BCLA’s Intellectual Freedom Award.
This award meant a great deal to OpenMedia’s team of digital rights activists, especially because intellectual freedom goes to the core of what our organization is trying to defend through the open internet — a space for people to come together, share ideas, and connect.
One of the most amazing things about the internet is the endless possibility – for information, for connectivity, for collaboration, for intellectual freedom. At OpenMedia, we’ve seen the excitement about its potential since day one. Sadly, this potential is far from guaranteed. Increasingly we’re seeing the internet under threat — across Canada, the United States, and the world.
Fake news is being used as a way to justify censorship. Innocent journalists are being spied on for their work. Net Neutrality is under threat across the globe. Greedy telecom conglomerates take any chance they can get to drive up the cost of Internet access, forcing low-income people and families offline. And security agencies across the world are turning the greatest tool for connectivity that mankind has ever invented into a tool to spy on the private lives of everybody.
This combination means that if we don’t push back, we’ll end up with an Internet where already marginalized voices are silenced, not amplified. An Internet that becomes the most powerful tool for mass surveillance humanity has ever known. An Internet with fast lanes for the already powerful, slow lanes for the rest of us. An Internet where ISPs can sell your browsing history to the highest bidder. An Internet that entrenches financial and political power and privilege instead of being a level playing field where all can be heard.
The consequences of such a shift would be profound. After all, the fight for an open Internet is, essentially, a fight for an open society that allows each of us to reach our fullest potential. The Internet was created for sharing and connecting, not for surveillance or censorship — as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web put it, “The original idea of the web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information.”
This is also why the fight for an open Internet is inseparable from our right to intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom means being free to think, learn, grow, change, and communicate – it is fundamental to who we are. To an informed citizenry. And to democracy.
These days, the Internet is an essential tool for anyone who wishes to exercise those basic human freedoms. OpenMedia will continue working for a free and open Internet that is affordable and free of censorship and surveillance. You can learn more about our work at OpenMedia.org, or by joining the conversation with us on Facebook or Twitter.
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