Good freedom, bad freedom: Irony of cybersecurity

US lawmakers are having another go at regulating the Internet, despite the recent embarrassing climbdown, when public outrage saw anti-piracy plans shelved. With a new cybersecurity bill, CISPA, activists fear their nightmares may now be realized.

­The US government continues spending millions of dollars to support freedom of the Internet around the world. But is it freedom for all?

The whistleblower website WikiLeaks, which to many has become the symbol of Internet freedom, has been under fire from US officials and lawmakers.

“Because WikiLeaks published documents which embarrassed the American government in many ways, WikiLeaks becomes the enemy,” a former employee of the US State Department, Peter van Buren, told RT.

The US has reportedly issued a secret indictment against Julian Assange, the head of the website which leaked hundreds of thousands of documents, revealing embarrassing details about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Five major US financial institutions – VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, Western Union and the Bank of America – have tried to economically strangle WikiLeaks by blocking donations to the website.

Until recently, Peter van Buren, served as a Foreign Service officer at the State Department. He says he was fired over the book and the blog that he wrote about the failure of US policies in Iraq.

“The State Department since 2008 has spent $76 million overseas on Internet freedom, giving tools and support to bloggers and journalists and online people around the world, particularly in countries that we have difficulties with,” he said. “At the same time, the State Department… has found Internet freedom to be inconvenient in the form of WikiLeaks, and has worked just as hard and probably spent even more money trying to shut down free speech that it opposes, while supporting free speech that it feels furthers America’s own political goals overseas. We call that hypocrisy.”

But it is not just the whistleblowing websites that the US is after, but also their sources. Critics say this administration has embarked on an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers.

“In this culture, where this administration is going after whistleblowers in an unprecedented way, we all have an obligation to protect our sources,” says Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist. “I myself, I’m really nervous about the safety of some of the people that I’ve talked to. As a national security journalist who covers national security, I’m talking all the time with people who are in the intelligence and the military community.”

While trying to stifle inconvenient leaks at home, the US perceives the Internet and social networking platforms as major tools for spreading democracy, and spends millions of dollars to help people in the Middle East and China get around Internet-blocking firewalls.

At the same time, ironically enough, American companies provide Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with the technology to effectively block websites.

“A lot of the tools of control that are used by the so-called repressive governments are provided by American companies,” Peter van Buren explains. “The difference is that corporations, for better or worse, talk about profit as their motivation. However, the American government talks about freedom and democracy as its motivation, when in fact in many ways it seems to act in the opposite direction.”

Some argue that if left uncontrolled, the export of surveillance and site-blocking tools by American companies could undermine Internet freedom in the same way as arms exports undermine peace initiatives. And as far as the US government efforts to secure Internet freedom go, they seem to discern two different kinds of freedom: the freedom they encourage and the freedom that they punish…