PITCOM briefs MPs on role of the internet in Middle East pro-democracy struggle

A briefing for MPs and Peers on the role played by the Internet, mobile phones and other digital communications technologies is published today (15 March 2011) by PITCOM, the Parliamentary IT Committee.

Download the report.

New communications technologies, including social media and handheld devices with video features, have played a significant part in channelling the current unprecedented tide of people power ripping through the Middle East. But the Internet itself has not directly caused revolutions: the motives were already there, and other conditions were right.

The PITCOM report examines the precise role the internet has played in recent events; the responses of the various regimes in the region as they fight retain power; and the way in which such regimes, and other anti-democratic forces, might be using new technologies to further their own ends.

It features new insights into the role of open source ‘web proxy’ software that allows citizens in oppressive regimes to at least attempt to view the web, use social media and publish information to the world anonymously and securely.

The independent report – commissioned rapidly to ensure a timely response to events which are still unfolding – concludes with a series of suggestions of policy areas which UK Parliamentarians ought to consider ensuring new technologies play as active and positive a role as possible in supporting the rights of people across the world as they fight for their basic freedoms. These include:

• Helping the UK and global diaspora communities of nations affected to play an active, connected role in moving news and other communication into and out of their former countries;

• Taking the potential of the Internet to boost democracy into account in the UK government’s developing policy on ‘Net neutrality’ issues (the principle whereby different kinds of Internet traffic are afforded equal or proportionate bandwidth)

• Taking the same issues into account in further developing the UK’s policy on global governance of the internet, including how far the Internet should be kept away from the direct control of governments.

• Considering how far the UK should support the development of technologies to promote uncensored Internet access, such as the Tor Project.

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