Back in my university days, I learned of a useful framework for analysing the ills of the educational system called “ABCs”. It stands for: Access and participation, Bureaucracy and control, and (Counter-)Consciousness formation. The ABCs describe the fundamental problems faced by the educational system in the Philippines (and in my opinion, traditional education all over the world). Take it further and you’ll get the “D” in the framework — Development — which sets the roadmap for change.
Reading on the updated Web Index Report has convinced me that the “ABCDs” of education reflect the same challenges faced by internet freedom.
The Web Index Report is a global index that ranks countries according to their internet freedom. For someone like me who lives n the Netherlands, it’s easy to grow accustomed to the unrestrained use of the internet. But all I need to do is take a step back from the screen and look outside to realise that the digital divide is alive and well…and has evolved. According to the Web Index Report, while access to the web has indeed increased, it remains in the form of unequal access. The digital divide has grown into a “participation divide“, “…as unequal access to knowledge and speech online denies millions the necessary tools for free and informed participation in democracy.”
In 2003, world leaders made a promise at the World Summit on the Information Society to “…accelerate action to make the web affordable, accessible and relevant to all groups in society.” Ten years later, Anne Jellema, chief of the World Wide Web foundation, attests this vision of an inclusive information society is far from reality:
“…parents in over 48 percent of countries can’t use the web to compare school performance and budgets, women in over 60 percent of countries can’t use the web to help them make informed choices about their bodies and over half the population in developing countries can’t use the web at all.”
Challenges to democratising information and communication flows is further complicated by a global trend towards greater online censorship and surveillance. “A growing tide of surveillance and censorship“ reflects the response of many governments to people’s intensified use of the web and social media to “organize, take action and try to expose wrongdoing in every region of the world.” Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), sounded this alarm close before the launch of the updated Web Index Report, describing the effects of surveillance as “chilling” and “insidious”, and that “(B)old steps are now needed to protect our fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of opinion.”
Here are some of the most telling findings of the report as quoted from The Guardian (unless indicated otherwise):
- The US dropped from second to fourth place on the list, while the UK hung onto its position of third place. Sweden was still in No. 1, with Norway coming in second. Russia and China scored poorly, coming in at 41 and 57, respectively.
- While the US was the highest scorer on social, economic, political and environmental empowerment it didn’t score well on breadth of internet access, communications infrastructure and a lack of safeguards to protect users’ privacy.
- Even Sweden’s record in web innovation could be at risk because of excessive state surveillance.
- Unsurprisingly, the survey found that wealthier groups were likely to use the web and social media to increase their knowledge and amplify their voice in public debate. But low-paid workers, subsistence and small holder famers and women in the developing world were less likely to be able to access important information online.
- The Philippines was the developing country that achieved the highest overall ranking in the Web Index 2013, with high scores on web use and measurements of people using the internet and social networks compared with other developing countries. But that position may have literally been blown away by the typhoon that hit earlier this month, killing thousands and destroying connections between the islands. (Note: The new Cybercrime Law which criminalised internet libel has been suspended indefinitely by the Supreme Court but it’s only the first step in getting it repealed. Public debates will begin in January 2014).
- Surveillance is getting more sophisticated and inventive, with a growing trend of the use of seemingly “legal” cybercrime and antiterrorist legislation used to justify actions. The survey found that 94% of countries in the Web Index “do not meet best practice standards for checks and balances on government interception of electronic communications.” (TechCrunch)
- Anne Jellema, CEO of the WWWF, noted that those rankings out today may look significantly different next year: the research was compiled September to September, meaning that it does not take into account many of the most recent revelations of how organizations like the NSA collect information. (TechCrunch)