Freedom to blog (and to hack?) #aitech

With one media report around today entitled “Google will pave the way to freedom in China, says Dalai Lama” and a front page splash in the FT saying “US analysts believe they have identified the Chinese author of the critical programming code used in the alleged state-sponsored hacking attacks on Google and other western companies,” it’s a good time to have one of Google’s head honchos in the building, poised to answer questions. And that’s just what we’ve got at Amnesty tonight.

Susan Pointer is Director of Public Policy & Government Relations for Google, a company which recently caused a stir (and earned a lot of praise) by announcing it would consider ending the censorship of its Chinese search engine, – even if that might mean pulling out of the country altogether. Yet another stir was caused when Google appeared to go a bit cold on the idea of exiting the exceedingly-lucrative Chinese market.

She’ll be joined tonight by Andrew Keen (via video), author of  Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is killing our culture; Kevin Anderson, blogs editor of the Guardian; and  Annabelle Sreberny, Professor of Global Media and Communication, School of Oriental and African Studies (with special interest in Iran, bloggers & social media). Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology Correspondent for the BBC, is chairing.

In a recent interview, Susan said: “The Internet and the transparency and immediacy it offers can play a fundamental role in engaging citizens in politics and the democratic process, in holding governments and institutions to account for their actions and policies, and for supporting human rights and freedom of expression.”

I spoke to Kevin Anderson on Friday about what he’s likely to say at the event, and without wanting to put words in his mouth, I think he’s going to pursue quite an unexpected line (at least in part because Evgeny Morozov, who was due to put the case for the Internet not being able to solve all the world’s ills, isn’t going to be able to take part). As the Google-China hacking story shows, while the Internet means that human rights activists can get information out of a country, it also gives governments the means by which to trace them, find out who they’re speaking to and what they’re saying, and in some cases assemble enough ‘evidence’ to send them to prison (after an unfair trial). You only have to look at the case of Shi Tao, whose email account details were handed over to the Chinese authorities by Yahoo!, to see this in action – he’s still serving his ten-year prison sentence.

That said, if you look at the impact that social media appears to have had in Iran – as Professor Annabelle Sreberny will do this evening – you can see that channels like Twitter and Youtube were widely used to disseminate information and mobilise protesters.

David Weinberger of the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society has also pitched in to the debate by posting this film on You Tube, in which he examines the role that the Internet can have on human rights. He notes the power of the Internet to connect people and to help us understand how the world matters to different people in different cultures. In a way, he says, the basic architecture of the Internet mirrors that of morality as it is based on links and connections.

It should make for an interesting debate tonight. If you can’t make it along to our Human Rights Centre, you can still follow my tweets from the event at @newsfromamnesty and have your say by tweeting with the hashtag #aitech – hope to hear your views.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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