The most pressing issue for Internet freedom today is surveillance, not only state sponsored, but increased monitoring by private companies, said Andrew McLaughlin, former U.S. deputy chief technology officer, at the 10th Tech@State symposium on Friday.
This year, Tech@State, held at George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium, focused on Internet freedom and highlighted the delicate balance between cybersecurity and freedom of expression, the protection of civil liberties and human rights.
McLaughlin said the recent uprisings in Egypt and Syria, where Internet censorship and surveillance were used against the population, demonstrate the importance of online freedoms despite the cybersecurity imperative. McLaughlin also said Internet regulation should occur through legal channels, such as lawsuits or through the World Trade Organization instead of through bills, such as the Stop Online Piracy Act or the Protect Intellectual Property Act.
Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner predicted that, as surveillance and censorship technologies become less expensive, the U.S. government will need to direct more foreign policy attention to governments who exploit such technologies to the detriment of their citizenry.
“We need to work more on sanctions, keeping bad technologies out and getting good technologies in,” said Posner.
He also announced that it would be his last day as assistant secretary of state as he is moving to New York University to work on a center for business and human rights.
During the plenary panel titled “Technology of Freedom, Technology of Repression,” Dlshad Othman of Internews Europe, discussed the current status of Internet freedom in Syria and the ways social networking sites, such as Facebook, were utilized for surveillance purposes to hunt down and arrest opposition leaders.
Because private companies such as Facebook and Google are experiencing record high requests from governments for user information and content removal, panelist Rebecca MacKinnon, a senior fellow at the New American Foundation, encouraged the private sector to take steps to disclose these requests to the public, holding governments and corporations accountable to private citizens.
“We need to make sure that in fighting Chinese hackers, we do not become more like China,” MacKinnon said.