I Take Web Freedom Classes from Dictators and Drug Dealers

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can teach you everything you need to know about internet freedom.

When Iranians recently took to blogs and Twitter to spread the word about unfair elections and upcoming protests, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government didn’t waste much time enacting new internet restrictions and bans on tools like Gmail.

If governments react to freedom movements by immediately moving to limit internet access, you can be sure that getting more internet access into the hands of the people is a good thing.

More people are starting to understand the fundamental importance of these communication tools. A recent study from the BBC indicates that a majority of people across 26 different countries see internet access as a fundamental right. Maybe it’s not surprising that people in more restrictive societies can have a deeper understanding of this right. For example, 76% of Americans see access as a fundamental right as compared with 87% in China.

In the past, U.S. sanctions have often blocked software companies from widely distributing internet-related tools in countries where access seems especially critical. That changed this week as the Treasury Department decided to allow blogging and instant messaging tools to be exported to Iran, Sudan and Cuba.

In Mexico, where 94% of citizens see web access as a fundamental right, Twitter is currently being used in towns like Reynosa where residents share data on the current activities of violent drug cartels. This data is being used to enable residents to spread the latest details related to local safety and to get the facts out to international media outlets.

The cartels don’t like social media tools being used to empower people in this way. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t like it either.

Class dismissed.

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