Posted by Guest on June 14, 2017 in Blog

By Annie Riley

While Americans are accustomed to free speech and internet freedom, so much so that fake news and alternative facts has become widespread, it is important to remember that 2/3 of all internet users live under some form of government censorship. In the U.S., conspiracy theorists spread rumors that the Sandy Hook Massacre was an inside job and the Denver airport was built to house the world’s leaders after the apocalypse, but in countries like China, internet users are blocked from using the most popular search engine, Google.

On Wednesday, June 14, the Brookings Institute hosted a panel on the topic of global internet freedom under the Trump administration. Stuart Brotman, a nonresident senior fellow in the Center for Technology Innovation within Governance Studies at Brookings, was joined by Ambassador David Gross, a partner at Wiley Rein LLP; Jacquelynn Ruff, vice president of International Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs at Verizon; and Sally Shipman Wentworth, vice president of Global Policy Development at The Internet Society.  

Sally Wentworth affirmed, “We are reaching a crisis moment” on internet freedom and cyber security worldwide. While autocratic regimes have a history of limiting internet access and usage, constitutional governments have historically pledged to support freedom of speech and privacy at all costs. However, in response to recent terrorist attacks, two of these constitutional governments, namely Germany and the United Kingdom, have mentioned restricting internet usage as a means to combat terrorism. In fact, Germany has even raided houses of people believed to post or promote hate speech. 

Despite trends of internet regulation, the individuals of the panel all expressed optimism that the Trump administration would not harm Americans’ internet freedom for two reasons: 1) the U.S. has had a leadership role with the internet regarding freedom of speech, privacy, and trade; and 2) Trump has yet to fill many vacant seats in the government. The lack of government appointees is guaranteed to slow down any Technology, Media, Telecommunications (TMT) policy, and the panelists believe the United States’ loyalty to the Constitution and the First Amendment will always take precedent regardless of the president’s relationships with autocratic and censored nations

As the panelists mentioned, the United States is a leader in internet freedom. Each year, Freedom House conducts a project called Freedom on the Net, which analyzes and compares internet freedom by country. In 2016, Freedom on the Net analyzed 88% of the world’s internet user population. According the Freedom House, the internet service in the United States is considered ‘free’ overall and in terms of obstacles to access (ranking in the twelfth percentile*) and limits to content (ranking in the fifth percentile*). However, among other countries considered to have freedom on the net, the United States lags behind when it comes to violations of user rights, and ranks in the thirty-third percentile*. Americans are right not to worry about censorship on the web; the bigger issue lies in surveillance and the infringement on their privacy. 

For more on surveillance, see http://www.aaiusa.org/surveillance

* 0 = most free, 100 = most restricted


Annie Riley is a 2017 summer intern at the Arab American Institute.