Back from Baku

I have returned from Azerbaijan, where I attended the Internet Governance Forum as part of the Freedom House delegation. As the Azerbaijani state security services can likely attest, I had an awesome time, and hopefully I will be back there soon. For now, here are my thoughts on IGF 2012, or what it’s like to attend an internet conference in a surveillance state:

Numerous commentators have bemoaned the fact that IGF, a conference dedicated to participatory dialogue about digital rights, was held in Azerbaijan, a country where bloggers are arrested for criticising their government. Azerbaijani officials proudly proclaim that they have a free internet and that they do not apply the blocks and firewalls common in other authoritarian states. This is true, but a free internet is of little use to a people who are not free.

In Azerbaijan, internet users are able to speak their minds, and the government is able to monitor them, intimidate them, arrest them, and abuse them. At IGF, a delegation of thousands of internet experts from around the world got a small taste of how digital media operates in a surveillance state. We modified our behaviour, struggled to protect our privacy, and relied on rumor in an information void. Incompetence became conspiracy, caution turned into paranoia. On IGF’s island of democracy, separated literally and figuratively from the rest of the country, we too succumbed to state control.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera.

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