Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Slaughter: The new cold war is information...points to need for international collaboration

In the many manifestations of the ongoing and growing information war(s), the pro-freedom-of-information forces need a new weapon. A government’s banning of journalists or blocking of news and social-media sites that were previously allowed should be regarded as an early warning sign of a crisis meriting international scrutiny. The presumption should be that governments with nothing to hide have nothing to lose by allowing their citizens and internationally recognized media to report on their actions.

To give this presumption teeth, it should be included in international trade and investment agreements. Imagine if the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and regional development banks suspended financing as soon as a government pulled down an information curtain. Suppose foreign investors wrote contracts providing that the expulsion and banning of foreign journalists or widespread blocking of access to international news sources and social media constituted a sign of political risk sufficient to suspend investor obligations. (From Anne Marie Slaughter's piece, The 'new cold war' is an information war, in Globe and Mail, August 25, 2012, below)
While giving a presumption of "sunlight" and the free flow of information some "teeth" for both enforcement and reinforcement is a good idea, there is some risk to tying such a presumption to the flow of dollars from any agency.
What we have in every country, at the state level, including the United States, is a system of classified information (for 'national security' reasons) and an even more nefarious presumption that, for example, by paying mercenaries in conflicts, we can prevent the state from both accountability and legal attack, because we are not responsible for the actions of those state funded mercenaries. So while there is a real divide between state control of information and the private flow of information from individual sources, there is also the question of international monitoring the flow of state provided information, and the "power" to repress publication of such information.
States will have to give up complete control of their information flow, as they will their access/rejection to legal tribunals, in a world in which the international community establishes standards that support a "sunlight" principle.
And with regard to the flow of private monies, for example, the world community has been singularly ineffectual in providing guidelines, monitoring and even normal taxation enforcement to support the legitimate needs of both states and individual money-holders, investors, corporations as well as separating the flow of "legitimate" monies from terrorist-funding.
We have such an interconnected and interdependent and complicated set of relationships, between and among the various state, corporates, individuals and each of their various networks and alliances and treaties, without the necessary internationally agreed and enforced terms for the open, clear and free flow of anything, including information, money, arms, criminals whose acts affect all of humanity in their "crimes against humanity" aspect. And, it would seem that the kind of disparity that exists between members of the United Nations on, for example, global warming and climate change, will also prevail in such files as the flow of information, the flow of funds, and the insertion of mercenary forces that are immune to international standards, like the Geneva Accords on the treatment of prisoners of war.
Of course, the access to and the availability of reliable information in a digital age will be both more difficult to control by state regulation, just as is the current flow of monies in this digital age. And that very fact means state control are not adequate to protect both competing states and individuals from the abuses that we are already witnessing in what could be called "tax havens" or less diplomatically "tax evasion" depending on your perspective. In this increasingly more complex and interdependent world, we need to give more and more attention to our collective need for collaboration, co-operation and the relinquishing of 'national' powers to an internationally agreed body or bodies who have the kind of support both fiscally and legally to carry out the kind of protections that citizens of all countries deserve and need.
And such a prospect is not likely to be found in the current  international climate and culture of competing, and secret and undercover operatives from all of the major players.
The ‘new cold war’ is an information war
By Anne Marie Slaughter,Globe and Mail, August 25, 2012
Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department, is professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

An information war has erupted around the world. The battle lines are drawn between governments that regard the free flow of information, and the ability to access it, as a matter of fundamental human rights, and those that regard official control of information as a fundamental sovereign prerogative. The contest is being waged institutionally in organizations like the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and daily in countries like Syria.

The sociologist Philip N. Howard recently used the term “new cold war” to describe “battles between broadcast media outlets and social-media upstarts, which have very different approaches to news production, ownership and censorship.” Because broadcasting requires significant funding, it is more centralized – and thus much more susceptible to state control. Social media, by contrast, transforms anyone with a mobile phone into a potential roving monitor of government misdeeds. Surveying struggles between broadcast and social media in Russia, Syria and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Howard concludes that, notwithstanding their different media cultures, all three governments strongly back state-controlled broadcasting.

These intramedia struggles are interesting and important. The way that information circulates does reflect, as Mr. Howard argues, a conception of how a society/polity should be organized.
But an even deeper difference concerns the fundamental issue of who owns information in the first place. In January, 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that the United States “stand[s] for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to information and ideas.” She linked that stand not only to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects freedom of expression and freedom of the press, but also to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which holds that all people have the right “to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Many governments’ determination to “erect electronic barriers” to block their citizens’ efforts to access the full resources of the Internet, she said, means that “a new information curtain is descending across our world.”
This larger struggle is playing out in many places, including the ITU, which will convene 190 countries in Dubai in December to update an international telecommunications treaty first adopted in 1988. Although many of the treaty’s details are highly technical, involving the routing of telecommunications, various governments have submitted proposals aimed at facilitating government censorship of the Internet.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been open about his desire to use the ITU “to establish international control” over the Internet, thereby superseding current arrangements, which leave Internet governance in the hands of private groups like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the Internet Engineering Task Force.
On the ground, governments are often still primarily focused on blocking information about what they are doing. One of the Syrian government’s first moves after it began shooting protesters, for example, was to expel all foreign journalists. Several weeks ago, the government of Tajikistan blocked YouTube and reportedly shut down communications networks in a remote region where government forces were battling an opposition group.
These more traditional tactics can now be supplemented with new tools for misinformation. For close followers of the Syrian conflict, tracking key reporters and opposition representatives on Twitter can be a surreal experience.
Two weeks ago, Ausama Monajed, a Syrian strategic communications consultant who sends out a steady stream of information and links to opposition activities in Syria, suddenly started sending out pro-government propaganda. The Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al Arabiya has also reported the hacking of its Twitter feed by the “Electronic Syrian Army.”
In the many manifestations of the ongoing and growing information war(s), the pro-freedom-of-information forces need a new weapon. A government’s banning of journalists or blocking of news and social-media sites that were previously allowed should be regarded as an early warning sign of a crisis meriting international scrutiny. The presumption should be that governments with nothing to hide have nothing to lose by allowing their citizens and internationally recognized media to report on their actions.
To give this presumption teeth, it should be included in international trade and investment agreements. Imagine if the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and regional development banks suspended financing as soon as a government pulled down an information curtain. Suppose foreign investors wrote contracts providing that the expulsion and banning of foreign journalists or widespread blocking of access to international news sources and social media constituted a sign of political risk sufficient to suspend investor obligations.
Americans say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Citizens’ access to information is an essential tool to hold governments accountable. Government efforts to manipulate or block information should be presumed to be an abuse of power – one intended to mask many other abuses.



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