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International Relations Social Media Government

US Internet Policy: Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Censored, courtesy of gojira75/flickr

Last week, an article in Arab Crunch stated that internet users from Syria, Sudan, N Korea, Iran and Cuba were not allowed to access some services and sites. The US-based open source repository SourceForge is an example.

It must be said though that these countries are also known for their own site-blocking capabilities.

As always on the World Wide Web, nothing is certain. But the evidences point out that it is the US government that is prohibiting access to these websites. These five countries are subject to US sanctions, and as such, Washington is restraining internet access to users in these ‘blacklisted’ countries. It is also worth saying that 4 out of 5 of these countries are the one “sponsoring terrorism” (North Korea having been removed in 2008 following bilateral negotiation on non-proliferation).

But US companies and the citizens of the countries mentioned are not the only ones affected by the sanctions.

The Swiss-based World Economic Forum’s Davos Debate, due to its use of US-based YouTube as a collaborative platform, is off limits to the blacklisted countries. At the bottom of the Debate page on YouTube is the following:

“Country restrictions: The Contest is not open to residents of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and any other U.S. sanctioned country.”

Ironically, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in a recent speech:

“The Internet is a network that magnifies power and potential of all others and that’s why believe it’s critical that its users are assured certain basic freedom. […] The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly only in cyberspace […] it allows individuals to get online, come together and cooperate. […] A censorship should not be in anyway accepted by any company from anywhere. […] Let us champion this freedom for our young people, who deserve any opportunity we can give them”.

This speech praises internet freedom, but what about Syrians citizens who are not allowed to download open-source software? Or Iranian citizens not allowed to collaborate in the Davos Debate?

You cannot praise internet freedom on one day and restrict access to Cuban citizens the day after. You cannot encourage Google to refuse China’s censorship moves, but force Google to impose censorship on certain products for Sudanese citizens.

The US is making the same mistake in cyberspace foreign policy as it did in the real world version: imposing double-standards.

Clinton concluded her speech by saying: “No nation, no group, no individual should stay buried in the rubble of oppression“. Now it’s time to implement this policy.

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