What Michelle Obama Said About Internet Freedom Could Be a Good Lesson for America
First Lady Michelle Obama has a message for young Chinese: Open access to information, especially the Internet, is a universal human right.
"It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media," Obama told roughly 200 U.S. and Chinese students at Beijing's Peking University.
"My husband and I are on the receiving end of plenty of questioning and criticism from our media and our fellow citizens, and it's not always easy. But I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
Of course, the first lady is correct. Free access to the Internet is widely credited with opening channels of political discourse (and rebellion) across the world, while restricted or censored access is of course a hallmark of the globe's repressive regimes. But while we're preaching the joys of Internet freedom across the globe, the U.S. is steadily restricting both the freedom of the press to accurately report on government overreach with lawsuits, criminal charges and intimidation and the right to freely access information without constant surveillance.
Just take a look at Reporters Without Borders' 2014 map of the Enemies of the Internet, in which both the U.S. and the UK — supposedly paragons of Internet freedom — make it into the offenders' list by virtue of their intelligence agencies:
Obviously, American citizens currently enjoy a high degree of everyday freedom of speech and mostly uncensored access to the Internet. But thanks to the dubious clarion call of national security, those rights are slowly eroding. (The CIA feels so above-the-law it's even allegedly taken to illegally spying on members of Congress.)
It's all well and good to preach the virtues of free, unrestricted access to unfiltered information to those across the globe who suffer from oppressive regimes. But it might be nice if we took those values to heart at home as well.