Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales believes David Cameron’s Internet censorship policies could damage online liberty for citizens worldwide, as the West “loses its moral leadership” in freedom of speech.
ITProPortal sat down with the Wiki chief at the Alfresco Summit in Barcelona today, and Wales, who campaigns prolifically for online freedom, spoke candidly about issues of web censorship and government policy.
Creeping state intervention online is at the forefront of Wales’ concerns for the future of the Internet, and he condemned the government’s handling of Edward Snowden’s GCHQ revelations (opens in new tab) in the British press, as well as the Prime Minister’s more recent threats to the media (opens in new tab) over the material they publish.
“We’ve seen the government pressurising The Guardian about publishing various stories and that seems to be intensifying. I saw last week that David Cameron said something new and rather astonishing about it,” Wales remarked.
“When I go out as a kind of diplomat for freedom of speech and I sit down with a minister in China - I’m just some little guy - but I try and move them a tick in the right direction and help them find new ways of coping with the public having access to information… because the answer can’t be blocking it. And now they can say ‘Well the UK is starting to block information’ - and that’s painful to witness," he continued.
“If the West loses moral leadership for openness, freedom of speech and the protection of dissidents, the world’s in big trouble.”
In his keynote address at the content management conference this morning, Wales spoke of the Wiki Foundation’s continued commitment to freedom of expression online, and described the difficulty of softening the world’s most heavy handed Internet policeman in China.
“We’ve always taken the stand that access to information is a fundamental human right so we never cooperate with censorship. That’s a very important principal for us as a community, but we can’t stop the Chinese filtering their own network,” said Wales.
“The current situation is a bit of a stand-off. We don’t think they’re going to completely block Wikipedia again in China, however, we also don’t think they’re going to suddenly open up and allow all content, so we’re in a bit of a stalemate.”
Wales nevertheless insisted that some progress was being made in the campaign to loosen China’s grip on the Internet, partly thanks to the online community’s ridicule of state censorship.
“I am optimistic about the long run in China. I think that the government there understands that the current situation is not sustainable in the long run. All they’re doing is putting a chilled effect on the domestic blocking conversation. It looks sillier and sillier as time goes on, and the one thing that tyranny really can’t survive is being mocked.”
You can expect more insight and talking points from our interview with Wales on ITProPortal soon, and don't forget to keep tabs on everything else going on here at Alfresco Summit 2013 via our live coverage page (opens in new tab).