My comments on the Freedom on the Net 2016

The annual survey and analysis of internet and digital media freedom around the world ‘Freedom on the Net 2016’ reveals yet another decline of Internet freedom around the world.
Using a methodology that includes several ITU figures (in particular for the index on ‘Obstacles to Access’ assessing to what extent infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet), the report entitled ‘Silencing the Messenger: Communication Apps Under Pressure‘ concludes with the following key findings:
    • Internet freedom around the world declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year.​
    • Two-thirds of all internet users – 67 percent – live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family are subject to censorship.
    • Social media users face unprecedented penalties, as authorities in 38 countries made arrests based on social media posts over the past year. Globally, 27 percent of all internet users live in countries where people have been arrested for publishing, sharing, or merely “liking” content on Facebook.
    • Governments are increasingly going after messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which can spread information quickly and securely.​

​​​Interestingly, the report displays a chart showing Internet Freedom vs Internet Penetration and GDP without providing any ​comment.

The chart triggers a variety of questions ranging from the linkages​ between Internet Freedom and GDP up to the correlations between ICT growth, development and democracy.

Indeed, the Internet presents the ‘Dictator’s dilemma’ for authoritarian regimes.

On one hand, shutting it down can hurt their economy. On the other, leaving it open and unrestricted can threaten their power grip as it facilitates their citizens’ ability to access and share political information and engage collectively.

Most often respond to this dilemma through sophisticated and opaque ways, taking advantage of the tool,  by for example promoting e-government as a means to strengthen their authoritarian rule while tightening control and surveillance. (see figure from the World Development Report 2016 – Digital Dividends​)

WB WDR 2016.JPG
Source: World Development Report 2016
While there is abundant ICT4D literature on the linkages between Information Technologies and International Development in general, much more remains to be explored on the correlation/causal linkages between ICT penetration, Development and Democratization at a global level as well as specific case studies including cultural and historical insights.

Trump, the United Nations and ITU

​​The United States presidential campaign has polarised positions around many issues (including some global ICT related ones).

While it is difficult to have a comprehensive assessment of all statements referring to technology, read ‘between the lines’ and discern clear positions, here are some interresting quotes from the candidates relating to ICTs and the UN that may affect ITU and its work.
Most of them are important in the United States national context but some ICT related statements related to Internet governance policy, Cyberwarfare and Cybersecurity, reduced commitment to Climate Change, balance between security and liberty, have international importance, will impact the United Nations and global ICT matters (hence ITU)
Here are some quotes (with links) and other related resources.
  • ​”The election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president was met with disbelief and despondency among some United Nations officials and diplomats” writes Michelle Nichols for Reuters.
  • senior Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity ‘Many are assuming a Trump administration will be less engaged with UN than Obama’s administrat​ion, which was more committed to working for collective solutions than previous U.S. administrations

  • One big question is whether Trump will moderate his position on climate change“, said Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert who has written on what a Trump administration could mean for the United Nations.
  • Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, stated “It is difficult to press other countries to respect human rights when your own government is sometimes ignoring them.”
  • U.N. officials, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein, have spoken out against Trump, saying he would be “dangerous from an international point of view.”​
  • An article at DemocracyNow states that “Trump Climate Denial Threatens U.N. Climate Change Agreement and  that many delegates to the U.N. talks are expressing panic over the election of Donald Trump, saying the outcome threatens the future of any international agreement to slow catastrophic climate change. The Republican president-elect has said he will “cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.”

  • Trump: “We invented Internet but ISIS is beating us at our own game. How do we fight a cyber attack?” during the First 2016 Presidential Debate at Hofstra Univers​ity in Sep 26, 2016
  • Question and answer with Trump
    Q: You recently suggested “closing that Internet up,” as a way to stop ISIS from recruiting online. Some say that would put the US in line with China and North Korea.
    TRUMP: ISIS is recruiting through the Internet. ISIS is using the Internet better than we are using the Internet, and it was our idea. I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I don’t want to let people that want to kill us use our Internet.
    Source: 2015 CNN/Salem Republican two-tier debate , Dec 15, 2015

 
And finally, a well summed up article entitled ‘US Presidential Elections – and the candidates’ stance on digital policy​‘ by the Geneva Internet Platform with the digital policy stances of both candidates.