How Internet freedom continues to slide
October 8th, 2013
08:43 AM ET

How Internet freedom continues to slide

By Sanja Kelly, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sanja Kelly is the project director for Freedom on the Net at Freedom House. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in June about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance activities grabbed headlines across the globe. But while the world’s attention has been focused on the United States, prompting important discussions about the legitimacy and legality of such measures, disconcerting efforts to both monitor and censor internet activity have been taking place in other parts of the world with increased frequency and sophistication.

According to a new Freedom House study Freedom on the Net 2013, which tracks internet censorship in 60 countries, internet freedom around the globe has been on decline for three years straight.

Iran, China, and Cuba were found to be the most restrictive countries when it comes to internet freedom. In Iran, the government utilized more advanced methods for filtering of online content – in effect blocking thousands of websites – while routinely imprisoning and torturing those who post dissenting views. In Cuba, the authorities continued to require a special permit for any Cuban wishing to access the global internet, with the permits typically given only to party officials and those working in approved professions. And China led the way in expanding its elaborate technological apparatus for censorship, while increasing arrests of users to deter free expression online.


Topics: Internet
Time to tear down the internet ‘walls’
June 26th, 2013
09:33 AM ET

Time to tear down the internet ‘walls’

By Katrina Lantos Swett, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Katrina Lantos Swett is the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Fifty years ago today, on June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy stood in West Berlin and condemned the newly erected Berlin Wall. Twenty-four years later, President Ronald Reagan traveled to West Berlin and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

In the decades between these speeches, human rights and religious freedom advocates behind the Iron Curtain defied the walls of tyranny by relying on the samizdat, a clandestine system to print and distribute government-suppressed material. Today, many use the internet in much the same way, raising both challenges and opportunities as the forces of repression and freedom clash in the virtual and physical worlds.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized the internet as “the public space of the 21st century.” The challenge is to keep this space free, open, and secure – a global platform to express ideas and exchange information, not a tool to repress people.


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Topics: Human Rights • Internet • Technology
Cyber security expert to take GPS readers' questions
May 7th, 2013
06:44 PM ET

Cyber security expert to take GPS readers' questions

The Pentagon's claims in a new report that China is trying to extract sensitive information from U.S. government computers has put cyber security issues back in the media spotlight.

But how serious is the threat to U.S. interests? How can America respond? And what other issues should be attracting policymakers’ attention?

Cyber security expert Eugene Spafford, a professor of computer sciences at Purdue University and former member of the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, will be taking questions from GPS readers. Please leave your questions in the comment section below.

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Topics: China • Internet • Readers' questions • United States
Why free speech is baffling to many
Palestinian men in Gaza City burn the U.S. flag Wednesday to protest an anti-Islam video.
September 14th, 2012
02:51 PM ET

Why free speech is baffling to many

Editor’s note: Zeynep Tufekci is assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of North Carolina, and she is a visiting scholar at Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter @techsoc. The views expressed are her own.

By Zeynep Tufekci, Special to CNN

The recent protests over a crude and offensive anti-Islam video serve as a lesson about cultural clash in the Internet era — not necessarily between extremists on both sides, but rather between cultural understandings of free speech and the public sphere.

It used to be that you needed to travel someplace new to experience culture clash. But by creating immediate connections between people, the Internet can create a culture clash without anyone leaving their couch.

The chasm I’m most worried about is not the one among the makers of the film and those who might have reacted to it with violence. In fact, one may argue that the hate-mongers who made this video and those who use the provocation as a pretext to kill are in a symbiotic, mutually reinforcing relationship.

The gap I’m most concerned about is the one between the vast majority of people in the Middle East and North Africa who watched the violence in Libya with horror and disgust and yet still find the existence of the video troubling and disturbing, and everyday Americans who see the story as just a few marginal, hateful people putting this video on YouTube.

To understand why this particular narrative of free speech is deeply unsatisfying to many people in the Middle East, you have to keep in mind significant historical differences between the rest of the world and the United States.

America’s free-speech culture and its legal framework are unique in the world — and genuinely baffling to many.


Topics: Egypt • Internet • Libya
July 16th, 2012
10:22 AM ET

Four ways social media could transform conflict in Africa

Editor's note: Gabrielle Ramaiah is a Ph.D. student in Government at Harvard University. Jason Warner is a Ph.D. student in African Studies and Government at Harvard University. The views expressed are solely those of the authors.

When Kenya invaded Somalia in October 2011 to oust destabilizing Al Shabaab insurgent elements there, the international community paid scant attention. Apparently more newsworthy was the “Tweet-off” a couple of months later between the Kenyan Army’s spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir and a spokesman for Al Shabaab that touched on issues as mundane as goat killings and as contentious as the ethical permissibility of war tactics. The episode was a reminder not only of the prevalence of the internet even in the world’s failed states, but, more importantly, it underscored how social media might be used as a tool in the conduct of international wars – or in the pursuit of peace.

Here are four ways social media could change the face of conflict in Africa and throughout the developing world:

1. Social media platforms could help reduce civilian conflict casualtiesby serving as early warning systems, helping citizens stay connected to humanitarian organizations, and keeping citizens secure in the aftermath of crimes. For instance, in the turmoil of Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence, a blogger’s plea for real time information on political deaths led to the creation of Ushahidi (or “testimony,” in Swahili), a platform that allows people to send tweets, SMS text, or web-based messages sharing the location and nature of outbreaks of violence. This Twitter and mobile based violence reporting platform offers certain improvements over traditional media outlets’ coverage, and has since been used to track conflict trends in the lead-up to South Sudan’s independence, as well as instances of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa. In terms of crime mitigation, a Kenyan village chief claims to have drastically reduced crime rates in his community by sending out Tweets instructing citizens what to do in the aftermath of insecurity.


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Topics: Africa • Internet • Terrorism
April 10th, 2012
12:23 PM ET

Nye: Cyber war and peace

Editor's Note: Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton Administration, is a professor at Harvard and the author of The Future of PowerFor more on Nye, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter

By Joseph S. NyeProject Syndicate

Two years ago, a piece of faulty computer code infected Iran’s nuclear program and destroyed many of the centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Some observers declared this apparent sabotage to be the harbinger of a new form of warfare, and United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has warned Americans of the danger of a “cyber Pearl Harbor” attack on the US. But what do we really know about cyber conflict?

The cyber domain of computers and related electronic activities is a complex man-made environment, and human adversaries are purposeful and intelligent. Mountains and oceans are hard to move, but portions of cyberspace can be turned on and off by throwing a switch. It is far cheaper and quicker to move electrons across the globe than to move large ships long distances. FULL POST

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Topics: Internet
March 19th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

@FareedZakaria on #SavingHealthCare

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Last night, my special premiered on CNN: The GPS Road Map for Saving Health Care. Thanks to thousands of you, the hashtag I used to live-tweet the special, #SavingHealthCare, trended on Twitter.  I've pasted some of the most re-tweeted tweets below. FULL POST

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Topics: From Fareed • Health • Internet • Technology
February 24th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

Partisanship jeopardizes U.S. cyber defense

Editor’s Note: Katrina Timlin is a Research Assistant for the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

By Katrina Timlin – Special to CNN

Few would argue against the need to improve U.S. cybersecurity, but the current partisan divide on how to accomplish this goal threatens to stall much-needed legislation in this area. On February 14th, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, a bill that aims to improve US cyber defense, clarify responsible government oversight authorities, raise issue awareness, and promote information sharing between the private sector and the government. Citing the rapidity  with which this bill was brought to the floor and its “prescriptive regulations,” seven GOP senators are seeking to delay this bill and will propose their own cybersecurity legislation on February 21st. The legislative progress on cyber defense is now stalled, and further delays could prove damaging to U.S. economic and national security. FULL POST

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Topics: Internet
The invisible revolution is online
January 30th, 2012
04:45 PM ET

The invisible revolution is online

By Jamie Crawford, CNN's Security Clearance

Guided by an army of "geeks with a conscience," a network of digital activists, working mostly in the shadows, is emerging to challenge the restrictions of repressive governments around the world.

Sascha Meinrath is part of that army.

Working with a team of tech experts inside a nondescript building in downtown Washington, Meinrath is developing new technologies that could one day be used to evade government censors and secret police. "You can imagine any of the world's hot spots, and we have been contacted by people there," he told CNN.

With governments in Iran, Syria, Cuba and elsewhere around the world trying to clamp down on freedom of expression both in public and online, the march is on to put a stop to it.

Since coming into office, the Obama administration has actively supported the construction of detours around Internet censors in repressive environments like Iran and Syria, thereby enabling activists to communicate with each other, and organize, without the threat of surveillance by the very governments they are trying to subvert.

The administration has issued more than $70 million worth of grants to nongovernmental organizations developing technologies to assist activists inside repressive countries to stay connected, regardless of government efforts to keep them silent.

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Topics: Internet • Technology
Video game wars
(Getty Images)
January 23rd, 2012
03:30 PM ET

Video game wars

Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of World Politics Review. For more from WPR, sign up for a free trial of their subscription service, get their weekly e-mail, or follow them on TwitterRex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University and co-editor of the PAXsims blog on conflict simulation.

By Rey BrynenWorld Politics Review

When former U.S. Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati was sentenced to death for espionage by an Iranian court earlier this month, he was accused, among other things, of helping to make video games. In his televised “confession,” Hekmati stated that, after working for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, “I was recruited by Kuma Games Company, a computer games company which received money from [the] CIA to design and make special films and computer games to change the public opinion’s mindset in the Middle East.” He added, “The goal of Kuma Games was to convince the people of the world and Iraq that what the U.S. does in Iraq and other countries is good and acceptable.”

Needless to say, neither Hekmati’s alleged confession nor his conviction means the charges are true. Rather his arrest is better seen as yet another indicator of the escalating geopolitical tensions between Tehran and Washington. Still, the incident highlights the extent to which video games and international politics have increasingly intersected in recent years.  FULL POST

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Topics: Culture • Internet • Iran
January 18th, 2012
04:04 PM ET

SOPA 101: Your guide to the Internet blackout

You probably woke up this morning to realize the Internet is totally screwy.

Is it the online apocalypse? Not so much. Google, Wikipedia, Boing Boing and others have gone dark, along with thousands of others, who are protesting two anti-piracy bills that are up for debate in the U.S. Congress.

It's a debate that's pitted the Web against Washington. And if the goal of these protests was to get people talking, that sure seems to have worked, with every media organization on the planet talking about piracy today.

Many of these sites are using creative techniques to bring attention to the two bills – one called SOPA, the other PIPA – and making very clear their viewpoint on it.

Before you panic, read our quick-and-dirty guide to these online protests. FULL POST

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Topics: Internet • Technology
Are more domain names better for the Internet?
January 9th, 2012
12:00 PM ET

Are more domain names better for the Internet?

Editor's Note: Nao Matsukata is a Managing Partner at Six Trees Partners, LLC, and Josh Bourne is the President of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA).

By Nao Matsukata and Josh Bourne – Special to CNN

What’s in a domain name? What’s in it for the everyday user of the Internet? O

n January 12, 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names Numbers (ICANN) – the organization charged with managing the domain name system – will implement a policy that will infinitely expand Internet real estate, making it more confusing and creating more opportunities for fraud and threats to national security.

Beginning this Thursday, ICANN will open an application process that may inspire, according to Internet experts, anywhere between 500 and 1,000 applications for new generic top-level domains, or gTLDs. These are the extensions that appear to the right of the “dot” in web addresses. Currently, there are 22 gTLDs; the ones of most us know are .COM, .GOV, or .ORG. FULL POST

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Topics: Internet
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