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Tangled Web

Authors: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, and Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change
March 23, 2007
Wall Street Journal

The past few weeks have seen a chilling crackdown on Internet freedom by American allies. An Egyptian appeals court upheld a four–year prison term for Abdel Kareem Soliman, a blogger who outraged religious authorities, while a Turkish judge ordered that Internet companies block YouTube, citing videos that disparage the memory of Turkey's founder, Ataturk.

This is nothing new: Bahrain, where the U.S. 5th Fleet is based, has been hounding bloggers and Internet activists for the past three years. While the United States has focused its attention and outrage on China, Internet censorship has become a problem with friends and foes alike. Adapting the U.S. approach to China elsewhere would mean singling out U.S. allies for opprobrium at a time when America needs all the friends it can find. The smart alternative is to shift from a bilateral approach to making the promotion of freedom on the Web a genuinely global policy.

The Internet has been hailed as a technology that empowers average citizens to make their voices heard. Its dispersed nature, most assume, makes it difficult to control. Yet countries generally route Internet traffic through a small number of checkpoints, allowing governments to efficiently monitor and control what happens on the Web.

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