Internet and Academic Freedom in the Digital Age

October 18, 2012
Assistant Secretary Posner Holds a Facebook Chat

In today's world, Internet freedom lies at the heart of academic freedom. An open online platform where information and ideas can be exchanged unimpeded is essential to the rigors of contemporary scientific and intellectual exploration. At present, however, Internet freedom remains threatened worldwide. And this poses as much of a danger to scientists and other academics as it does to human rights activists.

Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss the impact of these challenges on the academic community in a keynote address entitled "Science and Academic Freedom in the Digital Age" before a crowd of 250 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

During the talk, I stressed that there are two simultaneous phenomena occurring throughout the world. On the one hand, we see the enhanced use of technology to monitor, censor, and chill free expression, including through attempts to intimidate intellectuals and stifle independent thought via surveillance, threats, interrogations and detentions. According to the OpenNet Initiative, for example, 960 million Internet users still live in countries that impose worrisome restrictions on content -- that's 47 percent of all Internet users.

On the other hand, we are also seeing incredible progress and intellectual ferment produced by the interdisciplinary cooperation between scientists, academics, human rights workers, diplomats, NGOs and businesses. Organizations like AAAS, for example, are using scientific advancements to document the destruction of villages in Darfur. Others, like the U.S. Institute of Peace, have an entire center devoted to science, technology and peacebuilding.

All of these efforts are rooted in principles articulated in the U.S. Constitution and subsequently incorporated into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Protecting the right of freedom of expression is not merely an international obligation of states; it is also essential to the unfettered thinking that produces scientific advancement in the first place.

The U.S. government has therefore made it a foreign policy priority to protect the Internet as a platform for, inter alia, scientific discourse. As I described in a recent editorial for Science magazine, we launched a coalition of like-minded countries to protect global Internet freedom. In addition, we have in place many programs to expand infrastructure investment and lower the cost of access for many people worldwide. And through an Executive Order signed by President Obama, we have pledged to take steps to stop the transfer of technologies likely to be used by the Syrian and Iranian governments to commit human rights abuses against Internet users and others, scientists included.

The human rights and scientific communities have a storied partnership, one where academics have played important roles in advancing human rights and where human rights defenders have played vital roles in advancing scientific freedom. As challenges to both communities continue, so will the U.S. government's commitment to supporting, strengthening and defending scientific advancement and human freedom.



robert l.
October 19, 2012

Robert L. in Canada writes:

Well said, and very true,,, science and human rights are very much "connected"..each is as important as the other,..and while countries outside north america are deeply involved,, there are some real, dangerous and very topical problems right here at home as well,,,RIGHT NOW, FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE? REASON, CANADA AND BC IS LETTING A LARGE NUMBER OF INTERNET CRIMINALS OUT ON EARLY RELEASE,these are the very same internet predators we!! worked so hard to put away due to their extreme risk to the vulnerable,..yet,,they can be used by and for OC again!,.. and for some reason?? Canada does not seem to care at all,! named Oct as national cyber crime awareness month[smart!!],.. in Canada??.. nothing!,.. it is not even on the table,, at all,..dont mistake, I love my country,,I just use this to point out that the problems are not confined to the "usual suspects", and that cyber stalking/harrassment and worse,, is alive and well in action in north america as well,...If! we dont solve this at home? we will fail abroad,..again...thanx for this U.S,, wish my! country was half as aware as you are,..

New Mexico, USA
October 22, 2012

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Back in the day, the printing press helped to end the "dark ages" and foster the renassance in's not so different with the internet in broad band global real time communications.

While the world stands idly by looking on...a few brave souls tell their story of anguish in hell trying to shed a little light upon the darkness that overshadows thier present reality.

Mark Twain once wrote, "History never repeats itself, but sometimes it rhymes."

Yeah, and we did nothing and stood by while Hitler created hell on Earth, in isolationist cowardice and self serving political stupidity thinking we could avoid a war because we did not want involvement in one.

Nor should this or a future President have any illusions now about what we must do as a nation to respond properly to this crisis, knowing full well we have been seeking "peace in our time" and that the only way to achieve that with Assad is a policy of "unconditional surrender" and all the kinetic involvement involved.

Folks @ State say " We don't want to make things worse by militarizing the sitiation any further than it has become."

This policy has made things much worse by it's very nature of inaction which proves the premis wrong on its face, that we "do no harm" in search of a diplomatic solution.

No one nation should or is willing to go it alone in military manner to bring peace, to prevent a wider war from becoming manifest as it surely will if nations do not act now, together.

Assistant Secretary Posner, with all due know these things to be self evident, and not a matter of are tools, what gives them purpose is the intent in which we seek to use them.

We have the means to stop the slaughter yet we do not employ them, therefore our national intent is rendered impotent!



November 5, 2012

Keerthi K. in India writes:

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