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The pendulum swings back

I had the pleasure of spending time with the wonderful women at Kubatana during my recent trip to Zimbabwe. They do incredible work and are an inspiration to Digital Democracy. Recently, US company BlueHost siding with a dictatorial regime and taking down sites because of affiliations with democracy. As this becomes more of an issue, will groups like Electronic Frontiers Foundation be able to take legal action against traitorous companies such BlueHost?

It’s something that I’ve been particularly considering since The Future of Freedom and Control in the Internet Age discussion that I posted about and something I would like to bring up again given Mike Stillman’s post, Burmese Exceptionalism: The uncertain future of electronic networks in pro-democracy organizing in preparation for the Digital Democracy class I will be presenting at at Tufts.

On the pre-supposition that there would be an “arms race” between governments and agitators on the technological front (cyber-warfare vs. cyber-peacekeeping), he takes the crackdown on technology by the Burmese junta during the Saffron Uprising and concludes that “protestors should most likely focus their efforts on more traditional ways of organizing to try and stay one step ahead of government.” While an oft heard response, it misses the point.

Telecoms have become the point by which governments and citizens interact, whether we like it or not. However, there is a lack of understanding when it comes to that fact. While it is important for that layer of private enterprise to remain free and open, there are constraints, either from repressive regimes, hackers, “the bottom line”, and a host of other issues. While it may be initally assumed that it is safer to focus on “traditional” methods of organizing, at the least those methods are not necessarily safer and at the worst, as in the Zimbabwe example, we are implicating ourselves. As with the Zimbabwe example, BlueHost is an American company choosing to intervene overseas and potentially, with Obama’s support, intervening in the US as well.

I have a new theory on democratic organizing using new technologies that I will be discussing during the class and writing about soon.

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