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Internet is 'world's greatest spying machine'

Video by Tony Todd

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-03-16

In saying that the Internet gives oppressive governments excessive access to our private lives, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has re-opened an important debate on the role of the Internet in modern life.

The Internet "is the greatest spying machine in the world”, according to the Julian Assange, founder of whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

Assange told students at Cambridge University in the UK on Tuesday that instead of liberating people, the Internet, and in particular social networking, is actually helping tyrannical regimes spy on their own citizens.

He said: “It is not a technology that favours freedom of speech. It is not a technology that favours human rights.
              
"Rather it is a technology that can be used to set up a totalitarian spying regime, the likes of which we have never seen.”

Using the example of Egypt, whose recent change of regime has been dubbed “Revolution 2.0”, Assange said that there had been a Facebook revolt there three years ago.
             
“After it, Facebook was used to round up all the principal participants and they were then beaten, interrogated and incarcerated," he said.

Internet sceptics



Assange is not the first high profile Internet personality to sound the warning bell.

Belarus-born researcher and blogger Evgeny Morozov, who recently published his book “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom”, has long been warning that the Internet actually strengthens dictatotrships.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal in the wake of Egypt’s revolution, Morozov argued that Syria, which has opened up previously banned Facebook and YouTube as a “concession” to opposition groups, has simply added a new tool to the government’s armoury to monitor dissent.

“Now that the ban has been lifted, the general population will flock to Facebook and expose themselves to the attention of the authorities,” he wrote.

Morozov also said that in Sudan, police had sent out fake information via text message and social media sites about anti-government protests, and promptly arrested anyone that showed up.

Internet evangelists



Internet activist Wael Ghonim was one of the faces of the Egyptian revolution and is a firm believer that collaboration online is more a tool for liberation than oppression.  

A Google executive, Ghonim was arrested at the beginning of the upheavals that resulted in the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Ghonim created the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said”. Said was a young man  that was dragged from an Internet café and beaten to death, and is generally credited as one of the inspirations for the revolution.

He told the TED 2011 Conference: “Everything was done by the people to the people, and that’s the power of the internet. There was no leader. The leader was everyone on that page.”

TED is a nonprofit organisation devoted, in its own words, to "ideas worth spreading". It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment and Design, which was quickly abbreviated to TED.

And Tunisian blogger Riadh Guerfali, recently awarded the NetCitizen prize for promoting freedom of expression on the Internet, by Reporteurs Sans Frontieres and Google believes the web helps defend freedoms.

“The Internet showed the contradictions between what is said [by dictators] and what is happening on the streets,” he told FRANCE 24 in a recent Interview. “It’s going to be very difficult for dictators to be dictators with the Internet.”

He warned, however: “This will only happen if civil society fights for the Internet’s freedom.”

Contribute to the debate on France 24's Tech 24 Facebook page.

Date created : 2011-03-16

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