Saturday, December 5, 2009

Reporters Sans Frontieres

October brought the annual Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders. The index is compiled every year with input from journalists and media outlets around the world.

Not surprising to me (or anyone who is aware of my love for Finland) was the group of Nordic countries topping the list. Congratulations, Scandinavia, on your transparency. Equally interesting is the high position of the three Baltic nations - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. History will attest to their independent spirit and I think it is admirable that less than 20 years after declaring freedom from the USSR, they are considered to be some of the most open countries to emerge from behind the iron curtain.

The report includes information about how the index was compiled, along with the questionnaire which was used by journalists and media outlets.

Does the position of any country surprise you?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama continuing Bush's domestic spying policies???

     The Bush presidency appears to be the gift that keeps on giving. Just when we think we've heard the worst, someone like Wayne Madsen comes along and tells us that there is more...from the Obama Administration. Madsen, a political journalist, is claiming that domestic spying under the Bush administration may now have been even bigger, and started earlier, than previously thought. That's scary, but predictable. What's wierd is that this horror show doesn't end with Bush apparently. Madsen's NSA contacts are saying that Obama is now ordering DOJ attorneys to pressure US Judge Vaugn Walker to drop the lawsuit against the Bush Administration for his warrantless wiretapping program. We can also add to that the support for telecom legal immunity AND the continued love affair the infamous "states secrets" legal defense. Why? Because it all works so wonderfully! Seriously. That's the reason according to NSA insiders. Furthermore, this stuff might actually still be going on.
    Are we to believe this? Well, so far Obama seems to have done very little in the way of scaling back the excesses of Presidential power exerted by Bush.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation published an article in April of this year reporting that the Obama Administration was using the "states secrets" defense to get a case thrown out of court. Only 3 months after inauguration. He's supporting this stuff practically right out of the gate. By the way, look at his campaign counter terrorism fact sheet and see what it says.  Or I can spare you the time and tell you that it says what he didn't do where these matter are concerned. Does this mean Obama is untrustworthy? Not necessarily.  Some of this may also be that he is simply surrounded by all the wrong people.  Nonetheless, I'm starting to feel like we've been played, or are being played, for fools.
    I started out with this blog by essentially saying that this country didn't have real information policy, but I suspect that I was wrong on that bit. We do have an information policy: Your information is fair game. Policies were made; just not in the interests of American citizens' rights.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Censorship Culture in Singapore

In 2005, photographer and educator Ann Mansolino spent some time in Singapore teaching at Ngee Ann Polytechnic University. She experienced first hand the culture of censorship in the country. While researching in the university's library, she found several photography history books that had pages torn out, sections of pages cut out, text whited out, and images covered up. While there was not a specific policy on censoring the texts, it did seem to be common practice. She decided to document these in a series called "Revised Edition." She says:

"Newer books were just benign -- it was censorship through selection. Rather than having photography books on the shelf that might have significant historical images that involved nudity that they'd then have to remove, the library only ordered books that couldn't possibly been seen as objectionable -- like 'Extreme Sports Photography!' or 'Shooting Weddings with your Digital SLR'. The new books did not have substance or support the curriculum, but no one cared, because they were unobjectionable. When I asked if we could have more books on [black and white] photography, as that's what was taught, the librarian just got a really smug expression and said, 'we have NEW books now.' And that was the end of the discussion." (A. Mansolino, personal communication, October 7, 2009)

Mansolino's experience with censored books is just part of a larger problem in Singapore today. The parliamentary republic is run by the People's Action Party (PAP), which has been in power since Singapore gained independence from Britain in 1959.

James Gomez's book, Self-Censorship:Singapore's Shame, explains how the PAP uses the people's self-censorship to their advantage and also help to continue cultivating the cycle of censorship. It is a complex system that works on many levels.

While the constitution allows for freedom of speech and assembly, it also gives Parliament the right to restrict those freedoms on the basis of national security, public order or morality. Something so broad as morality (whose morality?) leaves the door to restriction of freedoms wide open.

Some who have spoken out against the government or general policies have been persecuted. The government brings defamation lawsuits, bankruptcy and tax evasion suits against them, and the local news agencies (Singapore ranks 133rd out of 175 in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index), further damage the reputation and character of the individuals in the press (Gomez 17). Those images remain with Singaporeans and cultivate the strong fear of any opposition to the PAP.

Mansolino says, "People generally believe that the system overall is working -- they have the highest standard of living in the region, quality housing and health care, no crime, etc -- and are willing to put up with governmental restrictions as a result. They also fear opposing the system - it is a culture of fear...."

For the time being, there is little censorship on the Internet in Singapore (though there are still consequences for expressing personal opinions). Some Singaporeans are using that to their advantage. The Enquirer is all online, as well as sites like

Stay tuned for future articles on censorship in Singapore.

Print source:
Gomez, J. (2000) Self-Censorship: Singapore's Shame. Singapore: Think Centre.

Photos by Ann Mansolino

Sunday, November 22, 2009

We Want YOU To Care About National Information Policy

"What is National Information Policy and why should I care?" . . . I am sure some of you are asking yourselves. This may or not be a question that seems to spark debate over waffles and coffee, maybe it doesn't seem to be a hot button issue . . . but it is (don't let anyone fool you). National Information policies are all around us; behind every internet search we make, the books/ information we have access to, and the very way that we think about the world.

The biggest thing that comes to mind when I think about "National Information Policy" is: ACCESSIBILTY. This issue can (and does) include issues like net neutrality, e-democracy, accessibility of information through the internet,local libraries etc., as well as censorship and intellectual poverty. So, why is there an information hierarchy and what can we do as librarians to put an end to the reign of the wealthy? (I know, I know . . . "putting an end to the reign of the wealthy" is not in our job descriptions as librarians). Knowledge is power, and there are many that have better accessibility to different types of information based on social status. I can attest to this personally, as I spent 6 years of my secondary education in private schools and the other six years in Detroit Public Schools. When I was enrolled in seventh grade at a Detroit Public School, I spent two years reviewing things that I had learned in fifth grade in private schools. The poor suffer from not only an economic poverty but from an intellectual poverty as well. Clearly, there are instances when money can buy knowledge (and greater accessibility) . . .
So as librarians, how do we promote democracy? I think the first thing to do is to take a careful look at our information policies, and information accessibility. Also, the way that we can impact our local Detroit community is to attempt to put an end to the anti-intellectual movement that is rising from the ghettos. And this is no small task my friends . . . no small task indeed . . .

So what is National Information Policy anyway?

Well folks,here is a little tidbit from UNESCO:
"National Information Policies, including considerations of informatics and telematics, are the key to coping with the challenges of the Information Society. There has to be a complete re-examination of traditional information policies in the virtual, interactive, highly volatile reality of cyberspace, particularly in the framework of legal and ethical issues. Many developing countries are now struggling to "catch-up" with the industrialised."

I don't know if that cleared anything up for you . . . but then concepts like national information policy are flexible and transitive . . . and so the dialogue continues. . . .

Saturday, November 7, 2009

International Internet . . .or not?

Since the dawn of the internet,domain names have been dominated by Latin characters. This has severely restricted internet accessibility to those that are not familiar with and did not know how to convert their domain names into Latin characters. Recently, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has made a decision to allow domain names to be registered with non-Latin characters. It is generally believed that when Latin characters dominated domain names, that it restricted non-English speakers' access to the internet. Many are hailing ICANN's decision as an internationalization of the internet. Domain names will soon be allowed in Arabic, Chinese and Russian characters. Andrey Vorobiev, the RU-Center public relations department manager, is quoted as saying : "Now that all countries can write their URL addresses in their own languages, this decision is an important step for the internationalization of the Internet. The days have passed when people who don't understand Latin alphabet cannot use the Internet"(Tong, X. 2009). Currently, these changes are affecting local country codes (.ru for Russia), and over time top level domain names (.com, .net, .org) will be affected as well. China and Thailand are beginning to introduce workarounds that will allow people to access websites in their own language (BBC News). I think the main question becomes: how will this affect internet accessibility for webpages in different countries? How will this affect people that do not speak Russian, Chinese, and Arabic, and do not have keyboards with these characters?

I think it is ironic that this change is coming after the US government loosened its control over ICANN a month ago. ICANN was initially developed by the US government as a non-profit corporation to oversee a large variety of Internet related tasks. Last month, ICANN signed an agreement that gives it autonomy and puts it under the scrutiny of the "internet community" (BBC News). It seems interesting that now that ICANN is not dominated by English speakers and is taking the needs of the internet community into account, that it is choosing to make the internet more accessible for non-English speakers.

Internet Addresses Set for Change (2009, October 30). Retrieved November 7, 2009, from
Tong, X. (2009, November 5). Russian expert: Non-Latin character names key to Internet internationalization. Retrieved November 7, 2009, from
Whitney, L. (2009, October 30). ICANN approves non-Latin domain Names. Retrieved November 7, 2009, from

Friday, November 6, 2009

Democracy on the Internet?

We all love Democracy right? Its one of those things you love without fully understanding what it is, like freedom or hot dogs. So what does it mean when the Council of Europe starts calling for more democracy on the web? This week the Council of Europe will be holding the 2009 Internet Governance Forum in Egypt. While it would be beyond the scope of this blog to point out the irony of holding a forum on e-democracy in a country with a sham democratic system of government, it would behoove us to discuss what e-democracy is.

The internet is recognized to be the means by which everything comes to pass. It can be said that a large number of people in the world effectively live on the internet. Their financial transactions, social interaction, entertainment, learning and working are all done on the internet. So like every aspect of human life, the internet needs to be controlled and it needs to be done in a way that will jive with current governmental/ economic setups, so what else but a democracy?

What does this mean? Are we voting on internet content? e-democracy, according to the Council of Europe, means equal access to content and equal opportunity to produce content. The internet then is an extension of "freedom of expression" or "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" The country of France went so far as to decide that internet access is a fundamental human right. But will the internet become intrinsically linked to our understanding of democracy?

So what do you think? Is the internet a fundamental human right? What does democracy on the web mean to you? Is democracy the best way to govern the web? Should national governments decide how the internet should be run? Should only national governments with democratic systems be allowed to decide? What about China, who currently hosts the highest number of internet users in the world? What should they talk about at the 2009 Internet Governance Forum?

What Do You Know About Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality can be broadly defined as the" idea that the government should mandate that ISP's act as dumb pipes;"(Singel,2009) allowing internet traffic to flow freely without regard to what is contained in the data packets. There have been many opponents to this idea, people that want to see the internet broken into a tiered service where some websites or services are given a priority. The ALA and the FCC both believe that creating a tiered service would greatly hamper businesses and democracy. In a nutshell, opponents of network neutrality believe that companies should be allowed to pay a fee that would allow their websites to become more readily available on the Internet. As of September 2009, the FCC has instituted rules that ensure that the internet remains a neutral and free flowing network. The main opponents of these rules have been Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. Companies like Comcast want to restrict and slow down internet traffic based on the type of traffic. Thankfully the FCC has decided that they not only want to support Net Neutrality but they are also going to expand the rules to include portable devices/ data connections. Before September, there were no official rules that protected net neutrality; instead there were four guiding principles: "network operators cannot prevent users from accessing lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non harmful devices to the network" (Reardon, 2009). If you are interested in viewing the FCC commission meeting click on the link below:

Reardon, M. (2009) Amazon, Facebook, and Google back FCC on Net Neutrality.
Singel, R. (2009) FCC Backs Net Neutrality-And Then Some