Why Foster Global Freedom

January 10, 2009

[First published March 8, 2006] I’ve noticed a trend in the major and alternative media towards a neorealism, which is away from fostering freedom abroad toward accepting the status quo, especially if it means that the Islamicist/terrorists will be denied an election they might win, and we will not be caught in the “quagmire” that is another Iraq. Better the friendly dictator we know than an election of a Terrorist group or Islamicists. Note this rhetoric from Niall Ferguson in the LATIMES:

The Republicans would certainly be foolish to cling to what is left of Bush’s foreign policy. Nearly all of its premises are crumbling before our eyes. The theory of a democratic peace is a chimera; give Muslims the vote and they vote for militants. Regime change in Iraq has not enhanced American security; its principal beneficiary has been Iran. As for the unipolar world….

Therefore, it is appropriate and timely to follow up my posted summary of the “U.S. National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism” and General Chong’s “This War Is For Real” with a return to the question: Why Freedom?”

President Bush summarized the answer well in his 2006 State of the Union speech. He said:

Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer — so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause.

Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time. In 1945, there were about two-dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today, there are 122. And we’re writing a new chapter in the story of self-government — with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink, and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom. At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half — in places like Syria and Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran — because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom, as well.

In the past too many have identified power with greatness, thugs with statesmen, and propaganda with results; they have let moral and cultural relativism silence our outrage, while conceding the moral high ground to the utopian dreamers; they have refused to recognize evil as evil; and they have ignored the catastrophic human cost of such confusions, and the natural and moral right to freedom. This cannot be said of Bush, who well recognizes why people should be free.

Today, billions of human beings are still subject to impoverishment, exposure, starvation, disease, torture, rape, beatings, forced labor, genocide, mass murder, executions, deportations, political violence, and war. These billions live in fear for their lives, and for those of their loved ones. They have no human rights, no liberties. These people are only pieces on a playing board for the armed thugs and gangs that oppress their nations, raping them, looting them, exploiting them, and murdering them. We hide the identity of the gangs—we sanctify them—with the benign concept of “government,” as in the “government” of Kim’s North Korea, Stalin’s Soviet Union, or Hitler’s Germany.

The gangs that control these so-called governments oppress whole nations under cover of international law. They are like a gang that captures a group of hikers and then does with them what it wills, robbing all, torturing and murdering some because gang members don’t like them or they are “disobedient,” and raping others. Nonetheless, the thugs that rule nations “govern” by the right of sovereignty: the community of nations explicitly grants them the right by international law to govern a nation when they show that they effectively control the national government, and this right carries with it the promise that other nations will not intervene in their internal affairs.

International law now recognizes that if these gangs go to extremes, such as massive ethnic cleansing or genocide, then the international community has a countervailing right to stop them. However, this area of international law is still developing, and in the current examples of Cuba, Burma, Iran, North Korea, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria, among others, the thugs still largely have their way with their victims. This is unconscionable. The people of these countries, and all people everywhere have the right to freedom of speech, religion, organization, and a fair trial, among other rights, and one overarching right to be free subsumes all these civil and political rights. This right overrules sovereignty, which is granted according to tradition based on a system of international treaties, not natural law. Freedom, by contrast, is not something others grant. It is a right due every human being.

For too many intellectuals, however, it is not enough to point out that a people have a right to be free. They will counter by arguing that freedom is desirable, but first people must be made equal, given food to eat, work, and health care. Freedom must be limited as a means to good ends, such as the public welfare, prosperity, peace, ethnic unity, or national honor. These intellectuals also have been allowed to assume the moral high ground. Freedom, they tell us, empowers greed, barbaric competition, inefficiency, inequality, the debasement of morals, the weakening of ethnic or racial identity, and so on.
Sometimes they are so persuasive that even reasonable people will accept their convoluted arguments. Need I mention the works of Marx and Lenin, for example, who provided “scientific” excuses for the tyranny of such thugs as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot?

To be defensive about freedom in the face of such justifications is morally wrong-headed. No moral code or civil law allows that a gang leader and his followers can murder, torture, and repress some at will as long as the thugs provide others with a good life. But even were it accepted that under the cover of government authority, a ruler can murder and repress his people so long as it promotes human betterment, the burden of proof is on those who argue that therefore those people will be better off

There is no such proof. Quite the opposite: in the twentieth century, we have had the most costly and extensive tests of such arguments, involving billions of people. The Nazis, Italian fascists under Mussolini, Japanese militarists, and Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek have tested fascist promises of a better life. Likewise, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot have tested the utopian promises of communism, to mention the most prominent communist experiments; and Burma, Iraq, and Syria, among others, also have tested state socialism. All these vast social experiments have failed, utterly and miserably, and they have done so at the vast human cost that has included global social upheaval, the displacement of millions, the impoverishment of billions, and the death of tens of millions from famine, extreme internal violence, and the most destructive wars—not to mention the many hundreds of millions murdered outright.

These social experiments have involved the mass murder of 262,000,000 Russians, Chinese, Cambodians, Poles, North Koreans, Cubans, Vietnamese, and others, such that were their souls to comprise a land of the dead it would be among the world’s top three in population

In sharp contrast, there are the arguments for freedom. Not only is a right certified in international law (e.g., the various human rights multinational conventions), but a supreme moral good in itself. The very fact of a people’s freedom creates a better life for all.

Free people create a wealthy and prosperous society

When people are free to go about their own business, they put their ingenuity and creativity in the service of all. They search for ways to satisfy the needs, desires, and wants of others. The true utopia lies not in some state-sponsored tyranny, but the free market in goods, ideas, and services, whose operating principle is that success depends on satisfying others. Moreover, it is not by chance that:

No democratically free people have suffered from mass famine

It is extraordinary, how little known this is. There are plenty of hunger projects and plans to increase food aid for the starving millions, all of which is good enough in the short run. A starving person will die before the people can kick out their rulers or make them reform their policies. Yet simply feeding the starving today is not enough. They also have to be fed tomorrow and every day thereafter. However, free these people from their rulers’ commands over their farming, and soon they will be able to feed themselves and others as well. There is an adage that applies to this: “Give a starving person a fish to eat and you feed him only for one day; teach him how to fish, and he feeds himself forever.” Yet teaching is no good alone, if people are not free to apply their new knowledge—yes, teach them how to fish, but also promote the freedom they need to do so

Surprisingly, the incredible economic productivity and wealth produced by a free people and their freedom from famines are not the only moral goods of freedom, nor, perhaps, even the most important moral goods. When people are free, they comprise a spontaneous society the characteristics of which strongly inhibit society-wide political violence. Freedom greatly reduces the possibility of revolutions, civil war, rebellions, guerrilla warfare, coups, violent riots, and the like. Most of the violence within nations occurs where thugs rule with absolute power. There is a continuum here:

The more power the rulers have, and the less free
their people, the more internal violence these people will suffer

Surely that which protects people against internal violence, that which so saves human lives, is a moral good. And this is freedom

Then there is mass democide, the most destructive means of ending human lives of any form of violence. Except in the case of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews, few people know how murderous the dictators of this world have been, and could be. Virtually unknown are the shocking tens of millions murdered by Stalin and Mao, and the other millions wiped out by Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-sung, and their kind. Just omitting foreigners, who are most often murdered during a war, such thugs murdered about 161,000,000 of their own people from 1900 to 1987. Adding foreigners and including the whole twentieth century raises the toll they have killed to nearly the incredible aforementioned 262,000,000.

Even now, in the twenty-first century, these mass murders still go on in Burma, Sudan, North Korea, and the Congo (DR), just to mention the most glaring examples.

What is true about freedom and internal violence is also so for this mass democide:

The more freedom a people have, the less likely
their rulers will murder them. The more power the thugs have,
the more likely they are to murder their people

Could there be a greater moral good than to end or minimize such mass murder? This is what freedom does and for this it is, emphatically, a moral good.

There is still more to say about freedom’s value. While we now know that the world’s ruling thugs generally kill several times more of their subjects than do wars, it is war on which moralists and pacifists generally focus their hatred, and devote their resources to ending or moderating. This singular concentration is understandable, given the horror and human costs, and the vital political significance of war. Yet, it should be clear by now that war is a symptom of freedom’s denial, and that freedom is the cure. First:

Democratically free people do not make war on each other

Why? The diverse groups, cross-national bonds, social links, and shared values of democratic peoples sew them together; and shared liberal values dispose them toward peaceful negotiation and compromise with each other. It is as though the people of democratic nations were one society

This truth that democracies do not make war on each other provides a solution for eliminating war from the world: globalize democratic freedom

Second:

The less free the people within any two nations are,
the bloodier and more destructive the wars between them; the
greater their freedom, the less likely such wars become

And third:

The more freedom the people of a nation
have, the less bloody and destructive their wars.

What this means is that we do not have to wait for all, or almost all nations to become liberal democracies to reduce the severity of war. As we promote freedom, as the people of more and more nations gain greater human rights and political liberties, as those people without any freedom become partly free, we will decrease the bloodiness of the world’s wars. In short: Increasing freedom in the world decreases the death toll of its wars. Surely, whatever reduces and then finally ends the scourge of war in our history, without causing a greater evil, must be a moral good. And this is freedom

In conclusion, then, we have wondrous human freedom as a moral force for the good, as President Bush well recognizes. Freedom produces social justice, creates wealth and prosperity, minimizes violence, saves human lives, and is a solution to war. In two words, it creates human security. Moreover, and most important:

People should not be free only because
it is good for them. They should be free because it is
their right as human beings.

In opposition to freedom is power, its antagonist. While freedom is a right, the power to govern is a privilege granted by a people to those they elect and hold responsible for its use. Too often, however, thugs seize control of a people with their guns and use them to make their power total and absolute. Where freedom produces wealth and prosperity, such absolute power causes impoverishment and famine. Where freedom minimizes internal violence, eliminates genocide and mass murder, and solves the problem of war, such absolute power unleashes internal violence, murders millions, and produces the bloodiest wars. In short, power kills; absolute power kills absolutely.

Now, to summarize, why freedom?

Because it is every person’s right. It is a moral good—it promotes wealth and prosperity, social justice, and nonviolence, and preserves human life. And it enables all other moral goods.


Links of Note

The Case for Democracy”> Washington Post Editorial (!):

Those who promote democracy as the best alternative do not imagine that it will succeed quickly, or in all places. It’s important to press autocratic allies such as Mr. Mubarak to create more space for political parties, so that when elections do take place Egyptians can take advantage of them responsibly. Of course elections aren’t enough; of course civil society and prosperity and the emergence of a middle class matter, too; and which comes first, and in what ways, will be different in every country.
But without elections, or the prospect of elections — without some measure of accountability to the people — what will induce a dictator to allow civil society to grow? The “realists” need to answer that question, too.




Telecommunications and the Rise of Political Liberty

December 13, 2008

[First published on February 15, 2006] Ambassador David A. Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy gave the 2006 Grafstein Lecture in Communications , University of Toronto, Faculty of Law on February 7, 2006. For those of you interested in globalizing democracy and freedom, he hits the right note in focusing on the role of telecommunications, which is often ignored in providing help to a people struggling for freedom. He also exemplifies the positive change Secretary Rice has made at State.

Here is an extract of his presentation:

Let’s consider the following question in our discussion this afternoon: How do . . . new communications technologies affect our shared goals of promoting the growth of freedom and democracy around the world? U.S. journalist David Broder, of the Washington Post, said “Technology is the servant, not the master, of change.” As we look at these communications technologies, it is important for us to remember that as freedom-loving people we should use these advanced technologies for the betterment of everyone. This brings me to the critically important concept of transformational diplomacy.

Transformational Diplomacy
During her confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained her view of “transformational diplomacy” and the foreign diplomacy role of the U.S. State Department. She said:

We must use American diplomacy to help create a balance of power in the world that favors freedom. This time of global transformation calls for transformational diplomacy.

Simply put, we cannot afford to leave the world as we have found it. Instead, we must create possibilities for change by putting our values into practice, leveraging the power of ideas and taking difficult decisions for freedom. In a speech at Georgetown University this past month, Secretary Rice emphasized that a transformed U.S. diplomatic effort would not be one-sided. She said: 


I would define the objective of transformational diplomacy this way: To work with our many partners around the world to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system . . . Transformational diplomacy is rooted in partnership, not paternalistic in doing things with other people, not for them. We seek to use America’s diplomatic power to help foreign citizens to better their own lives, and to build their own nations, and to transform their own futures . . . .

The Growth of Information and Communications Technology
As you are aware, when people talk about the important role that ICTs [information and communications technologies] play in the world, the emphasis is usually first and foremost on the economic benefits of technology, such as the remarkable increases in productivity and other economic benefits.

. . . . Driven by technical changes, the deployment of wireless networks, the Internet, including broadband, and other innovative communications technologies, have expanded dramatically during the past few years all across the world. The growth of the Internet and wireless services has been particularly dramatic. . . .

Economic Benefits of ICT 
This spread, and use of the Internet, wireless telephony, and other innovative technologies, has created new economic opportunities and contributed to GDP (gross domestic product) growth in ways that we never could have imagined just a few short years ago. Countries around the globe can thank the Internet and these other technologies for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new jobs.

The economic benefits from the dramatic increases in the use of ICTs in countries such as Canada and the United States are well known. But more importantly, the results of the explosive growth of using ICTs worldwide for other countries, especially in the developing world, are even more fundamental to their future growth. For example:

China: Currently, China, a country that I will discuss in more detail in a few moments, has the world’s largest number of landline and mobile telecommunications subscribers, including remarkably 363 million cell phone subscribers (more than the entire populations of the United States and Canada combined!) and a 27.6% penetration rate. China estimates that by the end of this year there will be more than 820 million total telephone subscribers, up from 748 million in 2005. Chinese telecom carriers expect to generate revenues of more than $86 billion in 2006. These are large and impressive numbers.

Just last week, China reported that its Internet population, already the world’s second largest after the United States, had risen to 111 million, representing a growth of 17 million people in just the last year. Furthermore, China said that the number of people with broadband Internet access had risen by more than 50% to 64 million. Some experts predict that the number of Internet users in China could reach 750 million in just the next few decades. However, as I will discuss in a minute, we should all recognize that despite the growing number of internet users, Internet censorship limits democratization because it prevents Chinese citizens from having access to a variety of sources of information and the freedom to discuss these matters. For example, the Chinese government blocks certain foreign news sites, websites which call for greater Chinese government accountability and the sites of human rights organizations critical of China.. . . .

Studies on Economic Growth and Technology 
Let me shift now to note some interesting studies that show the correlation between economic growth and technology.

Some of you may have read about a groundbreaking study on the relationship between economic growth and mobile phones conducted by Leonard Waverman, Meloria Meschi, and the University of Toronto’s own, Melvyn Fuss. The study was reported in The Economist: 
”Overall the study’s model suggests that in a typical developing country, an increase in 10 mobile phones per 100 people boosts GDP (gross domestic product) growth by 0.6 percentage points. The Economist, March 12, 2005, Economic Focus, Calling Across the Digital Divide.

We expect to continue to see the substantial positive economic impact of mobile telephony in places such as Africa and we were encouraged that the study recognized the fundamental fact that mobile telephony is “being rolled out at a faster rate in developing countries than developed ones, closing the digital divide.” A similar, but methodologically different, study of the economic impact of mobile services on Latin America, conducted by David Lewin and Susan Sweet of Ovum, found that “in middle income countries, such as those of Latin America, increasing mobile penetration by 10% boosts GDP growth by 0.3% per year.” The authors found this to be a “very significant increase in countries where overall national GDP is growing at only 1.5% per year.”. . . .

Social Benefits of ICT
The promise of the Internet is not fulfilled just by economic growth alone. The true fulfillment of the Internet is realized only by the opportunity these technologies offer all nations and all people to pursue educational, cultural, political, medical, scientific, and commercial achievements. And this is happening. The social benefits of increased use of ICTs are very well known, especially in the areas of e-government, e-learning, e-health and the like. . . .

The creation of Internet search engines, online data bases, online digital libraries, and e-government services transformed our access to information, our lives, our work and play. I could, if given the time and access to the Internet, give you extraordinary examples of the transformational, positive impact that telephones, especially cell phones, and the Internet are having on peoples’ lives, particularly in the developing world.

Political Benefits of ICT 
But while the economic and social benefits of ICT for people throughout the world are remarkable, I want to focus on a different benefit that comes from the spread of these new technologies, the benefit these new technologies bring to freedom and political liberty around the world, and the rise of political liberty.

Famously, there was John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, published in 1996, that stated, in part, “We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.” That view quickly proved to be wrong. Of course, that view is still wrong. But, because that naive view became outdated so quickly, people assumed that the Internet and other new forms of communications were not really having a major impact on the political process, at least to advance liberty and democracy. Fortunately, that limited view has turned out to also be wrong.

Looking back to the early 1970’s, there were approximately 30 democracies in the world. As President Bush stated in his State of the Union address last week, there are now 122 electoral democracies [as defined by Freedom House ] in the world today. In fact, President Bush stated in 2003 that:

Historians will note that in many nations, the advance of markets and free enterprise helped to create a middle class that was confident enough to demand their own rights. They will point to the role of technology in frustrating censorship and central control, and marvel at the power of instant communications to spread the truth, the news, and courage across borders.

President Bush also noted, as have many others, that these conditions allowed the world to experience, in a little over a generation’s time, the swiftest advance of freedom in the past 2,500 years. Certainly, free speech, effective rule of law, and free and fair elections, are also all necessary components of democracy. It is my contention, though, that information and communications technology is a primary engine for global economic growth and the free flow of information that spurs the rise in political liberty.

Satellite Technology: Let’s start with the pre-Internet world of the 1960’s. As early as 1961, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 1721, stating that global satellite communications should be made available to all nations on a non-discriminatory basis. The following August, President Kennedy signed the Communications Satellite Act with the goal of establishing a satellite system in cooperation with other nations. Although international commercial satellite services began in the 1960’s, it was not until 1971 when the international treaty creating Intelsat was signed and satellite services were soon made available to more than a hundred countries around the world. The creation of Intelsat was done explicitly to provide both economic growth and the free flow of information to potential democracies in the developing world. Now we take this heavenly system of communications satellites for granted!

Fiber Optic Technology: Satellite technology was not the only new technology that was changing the face of communications during this time. The introduction of the first trans-Atlantic fiber optic cable, TAT-8 in 1988, was significant because it dramatically increased transmission capacity as compared to earlier generations of cables and cut costs by 95%. Successive fiber optic cables have transited other oceans, expanded the quality of service and significantly increased capacity, while the price of investment has dropped at an astounding rate. The cost per circuit dropped from US$1 million in 1956 to US$310 in 2003. A decline of more than 99.9%

What does such increased capacity and dramatic lowering of costs mean in the real world? While both satellite and fiber optic technology brought the world closer together with virtually instantaneous communications, its primary impact was the incredible drop in the price of telephone calls and television transmission. In the U.S., for example, the average end user charge per minute of international telephone service went from US$1.34 in 1980 to US$.21 in 2003, a drop of 84%. In Russia, where ten years ago it cost US$4.00 per minute to make an international call, now it costs four cents a minute.

Decline in the Statist Paradigm: This, in turn, resulted in an explosive increase in international calls, in other words, families, friends, businesses and news organizations could talk with each other and share information of every sort. With the introduction of wireless phones in the 1980s, particularly the 1990’s and in this decade, more than 2 billion people have telephone service, many for the first time. The unexpected and unprecedented increase in conductivity has meant that direct information flows could, and have, occurred in ways never before imagined. While technology was changing, things did not stand still on the regulatory side of the communications revolution either. In the U.S., we had the divestiture of AT&T in 1984. It was a significant milestone in terms of changing both the mindset and the law regarding the United States communications industry. In 1987, the European Union began its trek down its deregulatory path with its Telecommunications Green Paper on the development of a common market in telecommunications equipment and services. By the time the Uruguay Trade Round was in full swing in the 1990s, negotiations began in 1994 to open up basic telecommunications markets to competition with the signing of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Basic Telecommunications Services that went into effect in 1998.

These legal and regulatory changes meant that the traditional statist control of communications, both telephony and mass media, was no longer the dominant paradigm. Instead, we began seeing the empowerment of citizens around the world with the private provisioning of services through competitive companies.

A nagging holdover from the earlier monopoly era has been the continued governmental ownership of some telecommunications companies. Progress advanced in many countries. For instance, an already privatized British Telecom saw the removal of Her Majesty’s Government’s golden share in order to fully divest the government of its last shred of control. Unfortunately, I am sorry to say, there are some countries who still insist on some government control, which limits economic growth and prosperity in those countries. Nevertheless, the legal environment for the telecommunications industry in virtually all parts of the world has been liberalized. This fact is perhaps best illustrated by the ITU’s statistic that there are now well more than 100 countries with independent telecom regulators. So, during the last quarter century we have seen technology lead to extraordinary declines in telecommunications costs and, with liberalization, a remarkable explosion in the number and availability of communications devices and services, especially in the developing world.

Technology and Political Liberty 
But how have these advanced technologies that we are discussing today actually increased political liberty?

Let me give you some examples: 
China: An example of the importance of technology in the context of people wanting to be free was the Tiananmen Square protest by Chinese students in 1989. First, the outside world was able to immediately learn about what was going on in Tiananmen Square, that is until the Chinese Government pulled the plug on television newscast transmissions. Then telephones let students know the reaction of the outside world, helped them communicate with their families, and even connected the Chinese leaders to each other. Once the television broadcasts were stopped, telephones, e-mail and particularly faxes were used to continue to transmit information to the rest of the world. A lasting effect of all of this was that it showed the Chinese Government that these technologies were something to be reckoned with.

Ukraine: The cell phone has been credited with having been a pivotal component in the success of the famous Orange Revolution that took place in Ukraine in 2004. “Smart-mobbing” resulted from Kiev’s college students SMSing each other and telling them to meet in Independence Square and bring along their friends.

Uganda: In a conversation I had about two weeks ago with a senior Ugandan official, we discussed how cell phones were encouraging political discussion. He said Uganda had just two radio stations ten years ago and now they have about 140. Talk radio is very popular and listeners frequently call in on their cell phones to offer their opinion. He pointed out that some of the radio operators were not making money, but that they went to great expense just to have a voice on the airwaves. While radio has been a political tool and a means to disseminate information for many years, now cell phones are enabling Ugandans to more easily share their opinions and engage in regular national political discussion. This is, in part, because Uganda increased its teledensity rate by a factor of twenty-five times in the past 7 years. The same story of the impact of combining radio broadcasts with mobile phones is true in Kenya and other countries across Africa.

Mozambique: Cell phone text messaging played a pivotal role in Mozambique’s recent elections, alerting voters to a candidate who engaged in improper conduct that led to his expulsion from government service in the 1980s. The SMSs even included the issue number of the official government gazette announcing the expulsion and reportedly contributed to the candidate’s defeat.

Saudi Arabia: In Saudi Arabia, the number of cell phone users has grown exponentially and political groups and candidates were able to capitalize on this telecom modernization by using text messaging as a campaign tool.

The Jeddah elections were unique in that women were allowed to run for the first time. Text messaging also provided women with an additional medium for campaigning without the usual social restrictions, which often limit women’s access to audiences.

Iraq: Turning to Iraq, according to an ABC News poll conducted in November 2005, 62% of Iraqi households have cell phones compared to just 6% in early 2004. In a country where access to phone lines and communication was limited to a select few under Saddam Hussein and where there were no cell phones, now there are more than 4 million cell phones.

President Bush called the Iraqi elections this past December, “a landmark day in the history of liberty.” Cell phones helped relay a vital message, to those who were reluctant to leave the safety of their homes, that the voting centers were safe and secure. And the world saw a larger than anticipated turn-out.

Here too, text messaging was used as a campaign tool. It is amazing to see the rapid adoption of new technology and its creative use, such as the SMS campaigning, to advance the cause of freedom in a place such as Iraq.

Afghanistan: Afghanistan is a country where under the rule of the Taliban the Internet was outlawed, and very few had phone service. And, to make an international call, most citizens had to leave the country. Today, there are a million mobile phones in Afghanistan and you can walk into one of many cafes in Kabul and get on the Internet. The two largest cell phone companies in the country have invested over $240 million. Given its geographic location, and its limited production of domestic goods, Afghanistan has long been known for its role in regional trade and for its people’s entrepreneurial spirit. The free market and the establishment of a democratic government have fueled the growth of telecommunications. As Afghanistan’s lines of communication continue to grow and connect with the rest of the world, we expect greater growth, a greater trade role for Afghanistan in the region, and we expect to see the reemergence of the traditional entrepreneurial spirit of the Afghan people.

The political aspects of blogs is worthy of an entire lecture. But, as Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard Law School’s Berman Center for Internet and Society, has stated, “Not only do blogs provide an alternative space for free speech in countries where the press may not be independent, free or strong, they also enable people in Africa to challenge media representations in the U.S. and Europe.”

While the Internet and ICTs are being used increasingly for political purposes and have expanded political and personal liberty’s toolbox, the concept of free flow of information is still being challenged today and it has recently been a matter of very public international debate.

Along these lines, let me mention China again concerning a critical issue that is currently in the news: censorship. As we know, China has made great strides in its economic development, but the Chinese leadership has drawn a line in an attempt to separate economic reform from political debates. That line is an illusion. Interfering with the free-flow of ideas over the Internet does not break the resolve of political dissidents. Instead, it limits China’s economic potential at a time when, as the PRC claims, it wants to foster indigenous innovation fueled by increased foreign investment.

China’s information control practices undermine human innovation, limiting the sharing of ideas, and violate fundamental human rights. They hamper research and development and entrepreneurship because the best minds work best when they are free to express themselves on the subjects they choose.

World Summit on the Information Society 
This leads us to a discussion of a major multilateral event in which the United States, Canada, and more than 170 other nations participated where the free flow of information was directly challenged. It was the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which took place in two phases. Phase I was held in Geneva in December of 2003 and Phase II followed in Tunis in November of 2005.

The countries gathered at Phase I reached agreement on a document reaffirming the fundamental principles for building the Information Society in the new Millennium. One of the key factors recognized in building the Information Society was “the ability for all to access and contribute information, ideas and knowledge” as an essential element to foster inclusiveness.

Article 4 of the 2003 World Summit’s Declaration of Principles stated the following: 
”We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers.

I do not believe that it’s an accident that we have more democracies now in the world than ever before at the same time that information is able to flow more freely. More people have access to information than ever before, which empowers people, and the access helps support and encourage democracies around the world. . . .

One of the key results of the WSIS was to clearly identify the nexus between technology and freedom. We should not lose sight of the linkage between our fundamental policy goals of free flow of information, freedom of expression, and the important technical aspects of this medium. 
As we look ahead to the complex future of the Internet, it is increasingly important that we understand fully the political implications of what seem to be very technical issues.

We saw this nexus on full display at the WSIS where some countries focused a great deal of attention on the Internet Domain Name System, arguing that greater oversight and control by governments was necessary. . . .

Ultimately, WSIS concluded that the current Internet system is working well and that international cooperation (by this we mean cooperation by all stakeholders, not just governments) should continue through existing institutions, whether it be the ITU, the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or other existing organizations. This is an extremely positive outcome that sends a message to the world and to business that the Internet is essential and it will continue to operate in a stable, secure fashion. It should not be weighted down by increased government bureaucracy or political wrangling.

The WSIS in Tunis explicitly endorsed the previous position taken in Geneva in 2003 that information flow should be free on the Internet. I’ve already used this unanimous adoption of close to 200 countries to call out countries not adhering to these principles. It gives me an arrow in my diplomatic quiver that I didn’t have before. Now, I’m not naive for I know that those countries censoring information on the Internet are not going to stop just because I ask them to do it. But they should do it because it is right for their people and necessary for the long term prosperity and development of their countries. . . .

Conclusion 
At the conclusion of Phase Two of the World Summit on the Information Society last year, the resulting document, entitled the “Tunis Commitment,” once again reaffirmed the earlier commitments of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Phase One of the World Summit, and further stated, 
”We recognize that freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge, are essential for the Information Society and beneficial to development.”‘

We must ensure that those are not hollow words, but have real meaning and are carried out by all of us: governments, universities, and everyone who has a stake in this process. We all must continue to make progress to protect personal liberties, to protect political liberty and to ensure that information and communications technologies continue to enable the world’s citizens to enjoy greater economic well-being, to live happier, healthier lives, and to live in liberty and freedom.

RJR: All I would add to this is an important indirect effect of ICT on freedom. As ICT facilitates economic growth and development, it also facilitates the growth of the middle class, economic diversity, and a rational-secular society, and thereby a greater desire for democratic freedom and facility to achieve it.


A Related Link I Must Share

“Party elders attack China censors”:

A group of former senior Communist party officials in China have launched a scathing attack on the country’s handling of the media and information.
In an open letter, the group denounced the recent closure of investigative newspaper Bingdian (Freezing Point). They said strict censorship may “sow the seeds of disaster” for China’s political transition.

Among the signatories are an ex-aide to Mao Zedong, a former newspaper editor and a former party propaganda chief.

“History demonstrates that only a totalitarian system needs news censorship, out of the delusion that it can keep the public locked in ignorance,” the group said in the letter, according to Reuters news agency.


Online, and free pdf download