Stephen B. Wicker, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University, conducts research in wireless information networks and how regulation can affect privacy and speech rights.
Wicker comments on the recent WikiLeaks releases, how those releases connect to SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), and the need to balance Internet freedom.
“WikiLeaks began to release e-mail correspondence last week that had been taken from Stratfor, a global analysis firm that provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations. The e-mails include details of various attacks on WikiLeaks, which have included freezing assets, delisting the WikiLeaks site from the Internet domain name service and terminating access to credit card donation services.
“The United States Congress proposed to use virtually identical techniques against purveyors of pirated goods in the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills, including blocking access to websites in other countries through IP blocking and manipulation of the Domain Name System.
“In both cases the government and corporate media have sought to interfere with the workings of the Internet. The rationales – maintaining the secrecy of sensitive information and protection of copyrighted materials – have merit, but both must be balanced against the freedom of expression provided by the Internet.
Internet access is readily connected to fundamental human goods that most would associate with human rights: the quest for truth, the ability to test one’s arguments in an open forum, and the self-realization that comes from participating in a great, ongoing conversation. Given the uniqueness of the Internet and the disadvantage entailed from not having access – there is even a name for it: the ‘digital divide’ – one can argue that access to the Internet is itself a human right.
“When the functionality of the Internet is inhibited to prevent the public from obtaining information that would simply embarrass the government – remember the Pentagon Papers – or a particular corporation, this is clearly a bad sign for a democratic nation. Some degree of openness is a good thing. The Internet is our universal library, and the public needs open and unfettered access in order to determine who is telling the truth.
“On the other hand, some revelations can endanger public servants, while convincing others not to take risks that may be for the good of the country. The question of how to balance copyright and the need for secrecy against free expression is a conversation that the public needs and wants to have in an open forum. The recent response to SOPA and PIPA were clarion calls to the corporate media and the government. They need to listen.”
Source: Cornell University