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Internet freedom could turn on 'Middle Countries'

Kenneth Corbin | Feb. 8, 2012
Between the free-expression camp and the hard-line regimes with strict censorship policies are a host of important, growing nations that are just beginning to delve into the work of crafting Internet policy. And those countries could hold the key.

"I think we have an erroneous tendency to project our own assumptions and our own familiarities in this debate on other capital cities. And we forget the fact that in most of these middle countries it's really only in the last two years -- thanks to the smartphone -- that significant percentages of their populations are online," Scott said. "These are new questions in a lot of these countries."

In India, for instance, the percentage of residents using the Internet still numbers in the single digits, according to Scott. Yet that country, with the world's second largest population and a thriving tech economy in cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore, represents a hive of opportunities for U.S. tech firms. At the same time, it has exhibited some worrisome signs of heavy-handed oversight that could mute the enthusiasm with which businesses eye the market.

Google and Facebook ComplyJust this week, word surfaced that Google and Facebook had each taken down certain content on their domains in India to comply with a court ruling that upheld a lawsuit against a larger group of Internet companies seeking mechanisms to block sensitive religious material.

"That's the kind of thing that we're going to run up against all the time. The question is will they come out in the defense of an open Internet," Boorstin said of his company's situation in India.

He explained that he is hopeful that countries still developing the building blocks of their Internet policy will ultimately land on the side of openness. Even if they are not compelled by a philosophical allegiance to free expression, the pragmatic understanding that a cross-border flow of communication through social media and cloud computing technologies will be an essential piece of the 21st century economy should be motivation enough to loosen their Internet policies.

"They will recognize that without that free flow of information they're going to stifle if not strangle their growth," he said.

 

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