Asia’s biggest developing democracies — India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Thailand — account for one-quarter of the world’s people, but only about one-tenth of the global online population. The policy decisions these states make going forward will be of considerable importance to the future of the Internet according to Dhruva Jaishankar, a Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. GMF marked the launch of Jaishankar's new report "Internet Freedom 2.1: Lessons from Asia’s Developing Democracies" with a public event on March 2, 2015. The report discusses the limitations and vulnerabilities of the global Internet freedom agenda as it is being pursued by the United States and Europe.
The event opened with an introduction from Dr. Daniel Twining, Senior Fellow for Asia at GMF, who praised the report as a timely examination of an important issue. After Jaishankar presented his findings, discussants Benjamin Boudreaux, Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues at the State Department, and Madeline Earp, a research analyst with the Freedom on the Net program at Freedom House, offered comments on the report.
Jaishankar opened his presentation by highlighting the growing value of the Internet to modern society. Commerce valued at over $1 trillion USD is conducted online, a figure that is rising. Limiting Internet freedom, Jaishankar noted, can have an adverse effect on economic growth. Furthermore, he said, some restrictions on online communications infringe upon enumerated freedom of speech rights. The report focused on five countries: India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Philippines, and Thailand. Jaishankar discussed each of these countries' policies toward Internet freedom and concluded by offering specific policy recommendations for policymakers in these five countries as well as the United States and Europe.
In his response, Boudreaux reaffirmed that discussions about Internet freedom should be incorporated into broader policy conversations. He posited that cybersecurity and Internet freedom are not inherently at odds and are often complementary. Boudreaux also touched on how the Internet can be used to both oppress and cultivate dissidents, an idea that Madeline Earp discussed further in her remarks.
Earp called denial of service (DDoS) attacks on dissidents in Southeast Asia an example of a violation of Internet freedom by cybercrime. Earp warned that Internet censorship in Singapore, China, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Vietnam could interfere with efforts by their democratic neighbors to expand Internet freedom. Earp stressed the importance of ensuring that Internet freedom is an issue on the global policy agenda and dismissed criticisms that it is relevant only to the West.
After the discussants' remarks, Dr. Twining moderated a question-and-answer session. Participants voiced concerns about the feasibility of legislation to address the issue of Internet freedom, the rise of cybercrime in the name of patriotism, and balancing Internet freedom and cybersecurity concerns. Both the respondents and Jaishankar agreed on the importance of a multi-stakeholder model in protecting Internet freedom and that Internet freedom, as an intersectional freedom that touches upon many aspects of human rights, must be differentiated from the human rights discussion.