7.4 Freedom for the People?
What about the claim for individual freedom in
cyberspace? "Of all the computer enthusiasts' political ideas, there
is none more poignant than the faith that the computer is destined
to become a potent equalizer in modern society... Presumably,
ordinary citizens equipped with microcomputers will be able to
counter the influence of large, computer-based organizations...
(but) using a personal computer makes one no more powerful
vis-à-vis, say, the National Security Agency than flying a hang
glider establishes a person as a match for the U.S. Air Force"
(Winner 1998: 236-37). But many computers, working together? That is
the distributive nature of cyberspace as it expands.
In many ways "the online world is the freest
community in American life. Its members can do things unacceptable
elsewhere in our culture. They can curse freely, challenge the
existence of god, explore their sexuality nearly at will, talk to
radical thinkers from all over the world. They can even commit
verbal treason... The hackers and geeks who founded the Internet
believed that there should be no obstacles between people and
information... The single dominant ethic in this community is that
information wants to be free" (Katz 1998: 220). At the same time,
"some network enthusiasts assert that 'information wants to be
free,' but an equally vociferous band of digital pioneers contend
that the real future of the global Internet lies in metering every
drop of knowledge and charging for every sip" (Okerson 1998: 343).
There are arguments for restrictions in cyberspace,
which will ultimately test its ability as a facilitator for groups
in the margins. Currently in Canada and the U.S., regulators and
cyberlibertarians are skirmishing over new laws and regulations to
monitor and police cyberspace.
Calling for "selective government regulation of
cyberspace," a U.S. law professor argues that "an untrammeled
cyberspace would ultimately prove inimical to the ideals of liberal
democracy. It would free majorities to trample upon minorities and
serve as a breeding ground for invidious status discrimination,
narrowcasting and mainstreaming content selection, systematic
invasions of privacy, and gross inequalities in the distribution of
basic requisites for citizenship in the information age" (Netanel
But cyberspace is still free territory, for those
who can afford to be there. It can still be used in the interests of
the margins against the mainstream. Sensitive to the issue of
government censorship of Chinese media overseas, by local and home
governments, Zhang and Xiaoming conclude that "as the new technology
straddles the border between a mass medium and an interpersonal
medium with a convergence of mail, information retrieval, message
posting and broadcasting functions, an interpersonal exchange of
information could easily result in a mass broadcast. The blending of
personal communication and mass communication makes it hard for
censors to decide where and when to strike." It is hard to "identify
and terminate the source of origin" on the Net as well: The authors
point to The Tunnel, an underground e-journal published by
dissidents in China, who e-mail issues to subscribers overseas, who
then post them on foreign websites (1999: 25-26).
I believe that security in cyberspace cannot be
achieved by individuals or marginal groups, as long as the
superstructure is in the hands of the cyberelite. But this is
nothing new for First Nations. Anyone can read smoke signals or
trail markers; even when coded or encrypted, they are a locator, as
The freedom in cyberspace now is more the ability to
promote a message, an identity, sharing, and a dialogue - in keeping
with the Seventh Fire Prophecy.
Next: 7.5 First Nations in Cyberspace
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