Who Decides About Information Sharing?
One of the basic tenets of democracy has to be that the people are informed and educated as well as free. History has shown us over and over that when people don’t have access to knowledge and information sharing, a government is free to act in ways that are not in the best interests of its citizens.
There are several underlying principles that must be carefully balanced to ensure that the rights of individuals don’t conflict with the needs of the citizenry at large. Most people believe that a creator has a right to be paid for and to benefit from his creation, whether that creation is a work of art, a piece of music, a novel or a patented new invention. Governments and most people agree that information that could put people’s lives at risk should be restricted, yet questions arise about where to draw the line.
The Internet has given people the impression that all information should be free – free to access, free to use and free to share. How can we reconcile the opposing concepts of free information freely available to all with the right of the artist or inventor to benefit from his work? What about the issue of personal privacy and security balanced with freedom of speech? Is downloading an unlicensed song the same fundamental act as downloading plans for weapons of mass destruction? Is publishing your Social Security number in the same information category as publishing a copyrighted book without the author’s permission?
Who decides whether specifications for weapons should be kept private or made public? Who decides that it’s OK to publish the fact that you are a licensed gun owner on the web? And should free access to information mean that it is literally free – available at no cost to anyone, anytime– or does it actually mean that information is freely available if you can afford to pay for it? Should it be someone like Aaron Swartz who gets to decide, or the people who were prosecuting him for following his conscience in freeing information? Prosecuting Aaron Swartz drove him to suicide, and it also seems to violate freedom of information beliefs.
Information sharing should be free, but it must be respectful of other people’s rights, interests and safety. Our ability to generate and disseminate information has outstripped our ethical and legal boundaries. Freedom of speech doesn’t give someone the right to endanger lives or publish facts that invade your privacy, and publication of information shouldn’t ruin the publisher’s life.
Balance all these factors against the needs of emerging nations who are crying out for education and information. The only way developing countries can advance and get a seat at the world table is through education of its people. Education is expensive, yet knowledge sharing is free. Social media isn’t only for sharing feelings or what one had for dinner. Social media is an excellent tool for disseminating knowledge through intelligent conversation. People all over the world should be free to share their knowledge with one another using social media that is respectful, thought-provoking and conversational in nature.
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It is interesting to me many of the people who advocate free access to data, are also heavy users of encryption and anonymous proxies. Seems quite the contradiction.
Content owners should have the largest role in deciding how their data is used and who it can be used by, but, as you note, there are other mitigating situations that can impact who else gets a role in that decision.
Society works best when there is shared pain and shared gain. It works least when there is unilateral imposition for every decision, or when every decision comes to the attention of the full populace.
In short, this problem requires balance of the non-trivial variety, and is something that must be constantly evaluated lest things get out of hand in some direction.
Absolute freedom has consequences, and too often, when we say "absolute freedom", we really mean "reasonable freedom that doesn't hurt me."
There are no easy answers, but I agree especially with the last paragraph. (Also, freedom to do something should not be confused with an obligation to do it)
Feb 22, 2013
I like your statement : "shared pain and shared gain"
A society that promotes freedom establishes lot of interdicts, while the authoritarian regime dispenses authorizations.
A full free society is a myth. It needs constant arbitration.
So is and will be the Internet, whether 1, 2 or 3(dot)whatever.