Freedom of information is an internationally recognized fundamental human right (as an extension of freedom of speech). The ideology of free speech is thought to have emerged in ancient Athens in the late 6th or early 5th century BC. England’s Bill of Rights 1689, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1791), The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)- these historic and foundational documents all enshrine the free communication of ideas as “one of the most precious rights of man” and a core principle of democracy. Your freedom of speech is being fought for every day:
- ACLU – Current Issues (American Civil Liberties Union)
- EFF – Free Speech Issues (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
- ALA – Office for Intellectual Freedom (American Library Association)
- FIRE – Free Speech Cases (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)
- and more! (Who’s Fighting for Your Right to Free Speech?)
The free access to information is not a privilege, but a necessity for any free society. One of my favorite things to do as a young man was wander through the stacks of my hometown library. I’d just browse until I found something interesting. Libraries have definitely changed my life.
“Freedom of information” is often referred to today in terms of government transparency- like the Freedom of Information Act. But there are other informational avenues under attack, less often recognized. As part of Banned Books Week, libraries in Macon, Jackson, and Swain Counties have been celebrating & raising awareness with displays encouraging the public to check out books that are frequently challenged or banned. Since 1982, more than 11,300 book titles have been challenged (the ALA publishes a list of the 100 most frequently challenged book by decade if you want to be a renegade reader!).
Authors are not only guaranteed the freedom to write what they want (some limitations may apply), everyone has the freedom to read what they want (read fREADom – Celebrate the Right to Read for my soapbox rebuttal to “What about the children?”)
Stop by your library and checkout a banned book!
Freedom of Speech has been interpreted as freedom of expression in any media and extends into freedom of information and the right to privacy (the EFF has won several court cases protecting privacy and free speech online). In addition to Banned Books Week, we observe Banned Websites Awareness Day on the Wednesday during Banned Books week, Sept. 28th this year. This day seeks to raise awareness of the growing information censorship in schools and libraries alike.
Part of this issue relates to CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), enacted by Congress in 2000 to “protect” children from accessing harmful or obscene content on the internet. This legislation was tied to the funding mechanism which subsidizes internet for schools and public libraries. In order to protect their funding (better safe than sorry?), many organizations over-filter and reach well beyond the requirements of CIPA. This, combined with an imperfect technology, means that access to many legitimate, educational websites is blocked for children, teachers, librarians, and the general public.
Many schools even block access to social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter. Some of these students are tasked with learning about media and outreach avenues as a means to educate and are not given access to the tools they need to learn. We’re doing a disservice to students (and teachers) by limiting their experiences; in addition to not getting practice critically filtering web-based information on their own, we’re also reinforcing the idea that social media & the internet are distractions to learning rather than tools to connect, communicate, and educate. Teaching students that the internet is a cesspool and a waste of time… well, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By shielding people from the internet, we foster exactly what we’re trying to protect them from— and failing to cultivate good digital citizenship in the process.
The issues of censorship go beyond publicly funded institutions. There have been 20 documented government ordered “internet shutdowns” globally in the first 6 months of 2016.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, anyone can claim ownership of content and have it removed from web hosts or search engines without any proof and without any recourse or appeal (in practice- most web hosts and content providers don’t want to/can’t spend the time needed to investigate claims and will simply remove content automatically). Many times, bots (rather than actual human beings) issue takedown requests en masse and without review, sometimes with hilarious results (Warner Bros mistakenly files DMCA takedowns for its own websites).
What can you do? Exercise your freedom— inform yourself and express yourself. And support the rights of others to do the same— just don’t take those unfollows on Facebook during election season too personally!