You can't support free speech while siding with those who oppress it

Oxblood Ruffin
Oxblood Ruffin wonders how censorship fits in with free speech

It's never very charming to see saccharine sympathy, especially when it comes from political leaders.

President Obama and Germany's Chancellor Merkel have both been just a teensy bit hypocritical in their support of the Iranian people. While they've voiced that support, they are also actively supporting the Western corporations supplying censorware and weaponry to Iran - and other human rights violators.

China, the country that single-handedly established the world's most robust national firewall, was always seen as a cash cow by American IT firms. It had Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and Yahoo sucking on all four teats, and their efforts have borne fruit.

China is now viewed as the beacon of all things censorious on the internet. Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma, and others are enthralled. In fact, China would be happy to reshape the internet in its own image.

But let's get back to Iran. A lovely sea of green that can't wait to become America's fifty-first state.

In spite of America's fatuous back-slapping about Twittering the revolution there remains the small problem of hopping into bed with a coterie of international dictators. Fortunately for Obama this virtual shadow falls mostly on Chancellor Merkel's shoulders, at least with regard to Iran.

Siemens/Nokia - a European alliance - has stitched together a reasonably effective control mechanism for its clients in Tehran.

Granted, it's not as exacting as the one America sold to China, but American firms were hobbled over Iran's status as a terrorist nation, and no Yankee corporations were allowed to do business there. So Europe exported censorship as well as its competence allowed.

And had it only been for amoral corporatism and governmental douche-baggery, that would have been the end of it.

Yet in spite of the world's greatest technical resources aligned against the Iranian people, somehow their story is being told. And make no mistake, this story isn't getting out because of traditional media, no matter how well-intentioned. It's getting out because of TOR, Psiphon and hacktivists. There is a revolution going on, and it's not just in Iran.

Increasingly the public is waking up to censorship on the internet. The situation in Iran has only underscored the need for free and open access to information, which is a basic human right.

In a recent opinion piece two Canadian academics proposed an international Treaty of Cyberspace. Fundamental to their suggestion is the notion that the internet is a global commons that should be available to, and protected for, all.

Additionally the gentlemen suggested that government funding should be made available for R&D to "promote free speech, privacy and access to information".

Sony would clearly have a problem with that. And so would Nortel, Websense, and Siemens/Nokia. But Obama and Merkel could make a difference by actively promoting free speech, instead of siding with the corporations that suppress it.


Oxblood Ruffin is a Canadian writer and human rights activist based in Munich, Germany. He is a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow hacking collective, and Executive Director of Hacktivismo, an international group of hackers that develops circumvention technologies for users living behind national firewalls. Oxblood is a founding member of the Dharamsala Information Technology Group in Dharamsala, India, and has spoken at the University of Oregon, Yale, and Harvard law schools on cybercrime and free speech issues. Follow Oxblood on Twitter at