The Internet Under Surveillance

One of the key architects of the Internet is calling for users to exercise ‘due diligence’ to assure that governments do not censor information for political purposes.

In his forward to the recent Reporters Without Borders report on the state of internet censorship, Vint Cerf, widely regarded as the “father of the Internet,” calls for web users to exercise their critical thinking skills when accessing online information.

“Truth is a powerful solvent,” writes Cerf in his foreword to The Internet Under Surveillance – Obstacles to the Free Flow of Information Online. “Stone walls melt before its relentless might. The Internet is one of the most powerful agents of freedom. It exposes truth to those who wish to see and hear it. It is no wonder that some governments and organizations fear the Internet and its ability to make the truth known.”

Cerf warns that many governments around the world may succumb to the temptation to remove information to the Internet, or worse, subvert it for political purposes. While Cerf supports some degree of regulation — for example, in fighting the scourge of child pornography — he also reminds us of our responsibilities as users to guard against manipulated sources of information.

“I see many responsibilities on the table for effective use of the Internet. Citizens must do their best to guard against government censorship for political purposes. At the same time, they are responsible for trying to distinguish useful and truthful information from bad quality information and must therefore exercise critical thinking about what they see and hear.”

Cerf makes a crucial point that I’ve touched on repeatedly: “Citizens must bear in mind that not all relevant information is online and that thoroughness dictates examination of material from other sources than the Internet before concluding that due diligence has been taken.”

He also says we are responsible for counteracting misinformation when we discover it. “In this 21st century information age, Internauts have significant responsibilities. They must guard against abusive censorship and counteract misinformation. They must take responsibility for thoughtful use of the Internet and the World Wide Web and all of the information services and appliances yet to come.”

It’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay that’s a fitting beginning to a report of the state of online censorship and misinformation in 35 countries throughout the world.

The Internet under Surveillance
Vint Cerf’s forward, as well as a clickable menu of each of the countries covered in the report, is available at this URL.

The Internet under Surveillance: Obstacles to the free flow of information online
(PDF, 151 pages)
This link will download the full PDF report — it’s a huge 2.5 download so it will take some time on a slow connection.

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