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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Freedom

Technology can keep free speech alive

Compiled at the Clarion Hotel, Stockholm, and despatched from Arlanda Airport via one of many public wi-fi services available, one of which was partnered with my UK ISP

I have just been reading an article on repression and over the past year there seems to have been an acceleration in the number of reports on regimes using the net to monitor unrest in their populations. These governments seek to identify those voicing discontent and pursue whatever or whomever they consider to be a potential risk. In some cases this has led to jail terms and other forms of punitive action against individuals and organisations.

For those living in the free world this not only seems alien, it seems a crime in its own right. Free speech should be an unquestionable human right and be written into every constitution. But it appears that this is an unlikely dream for much of the human race for some time to come. So what are the safest solutions? So far the flow of perceived dissident blogs, emails and unofficial (or deemed illegal) media reports appears to continue despite the risks to the individuals and groups concerned.

In the same way that the internet and technology provided the original facility for both sides - those who want to be free and those who want to constrain - it also provides new opportunities for communication and anonymity. IP tunnels, proxy servers, encryption, phantom email accounts and spoof addressing are among the obvious examples - not to mention the hiding and/or embedding of data in apparently passive files! And then there are all the tools used by the spreaders of viral infections and bot networks. All could be turned and used to keep free speech alive and safe.

There are also opportunities for communications using a host of other techniques including invisible servers with URL hopping and of course goods carried by the travelling public across borders. All our devices now have so much memory that it is very easy to secrete information into cameras, PDAs, laptops, mobile phones, MP3 players, storage sticks and many other devices. Moreover, it can be relatively easy to implant information with or without the owner's knowledge or permission. Anyone, it appears, could be a carrier!

There is no doubt that some regimes will continue to constrain and repress populations - that is what they do to survive! But history tells us that ultimately they always fail. With the technology capabilities and choices we have today, augmented by the globally networked community of IT capable people, that failure was never so certain.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.