What a Digital Magna Carta Could Mean in a World of Spying and Censorship

Internet censorship and surveillance is spreading fast around the world, becoming a real trend of this decade. And in countries where it is already well established, it grows deeper and stealthier all the time. Another country, Cambodia, has been added to the list of those who are shoring up their old laws to allow greater government control over Internet content and access. In response to the growing threat to Internet freedoms and privacy, and to online threats to security as well, students from all over the world have joined together to support a British Library project for a digital Magna Carta. It is difficult to tell at this point how great an effect the project might have, but we are hopeful that it will at least serve as a global statement against online censorship, surveillance and tracking that can’t be ignored.

Cambodia Gears Up for Statewide Censorship and Surveillance

Cambodia has remained pretty much free over the past decade compared to its neighbors China and North Korea. But Internet censorship is on the legislative menu this year. The government is preparing to dig up the old laws on telecommunications and cybercrime. The laws will be reviewed and updated to suit the times, and this means greater government powers to spy on Internet users and restrict Internet content access. Controlling content on the Internet is always synonymous with censorship and denying people’s right to free speech. Amendments to the relatively new (2012) Cybercrime Law, expected to be reviewed at the end of this year, were revisited and leaked last year. They clearly show that the government aims to cut off and cover up any speech that threatens those in power, using those familiar phrases like “causes instability”, “promotes insecurity” and “upsetting political stability”.

Many people in Cambodia are Internet connected since the country has long offered reasonable rates for Internet access and affordable Wi-Fi-ready devices. The citizenry has therefore had the means to engage in political debate and express all kinds of opinions on the many available online platforms. On Facebook alone, we can find about 1,760,000 Cambodian accounts. We have seen many times where free speech and government protest leads, and so the relative freedom that Cambodians have enjoyed so far could change very soon. The Cambodian government is preparing to silence those free thinkers who have been sharing their experiences and ideas with the world. They are also preparing to set up a system that will allow them to keep track of all Internet users in the country, no doubt so that they can watch for anyone who dares to open their mouths again.

The government says that the move to amend their Law on Telecommunications and their Cybercrime Law is a security measure, specifically to go after hackers. But we know that offline forms of media are already heavily monitored and censored in the country. It follows that the government would jump on Internet media next. Members of the Licadho rights organization have reported on this emerging threat to freedom of speech in the country, saying that no Cambodian has ever truly been able to exercise the right. It is because of the open nature of the Internet that the people were able to finally say what they have yearned to say. But then of course the government always finds out one way or another, and they are now moving to put a lid on any free form of expression.

A Digital Magna Carta for Online Freedom, Privacy and Security

An impressive global effort from 3000 students aged 10-17 is underway in support of the British Library project for a digital Magne Carta. The Magne Carta is a well-respected charter in Britain and the United States that dates back 800 years to June 15, 1215. It is a symbol of how people can stand up to their rulers and demand respect for their rights. It is also revered as the basis for the ideals that formed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is so appropriate that people from all over the world should unite in celebration of the Magna Carta by standing up, as those barons of old did, to protest leadership that oversteps its bounds.

The British Library has opened the floor to students, 3000 of which have already submitted their proposals for what issues the digital Magna Carta should address. More than 500 clauses labeled My Digital Rights are already in, and they express the worldwide desire and need for greater access, freedom, security and privacy in the digital world. The participating students also remind us that it is a global sentiment that these rights should be protected and enjoyed the word over, not just for they themselves who call for it, but others for whom they want to take the stand.

The original Magna Carta is a list of demands, but has come to be accepted as a basic and irrefutable statement that no one is above the law, no matter his or her position of power. After 800 years, we are still fighting for this right to be respected under the law. Tim Berners-Lee, a long time supporter of a digital Magna Carta, or an online bill of rights, has been talking about the importance of such a charter to uphold democracy online and to solidify all Internet users’ claim to freedom and privacy, and now also security and access on the Internet.

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