SILVER SPRING, Maryland, March 15, 2013 – A somber tone was set last week during the opening day of the 2013 Freedom to Connect conference here. Opening remarks by conference organizer David Isenberg were peppered with references to Wikileaks mastermind Julian Assange, Pvt. Bradley Manning currently under military trial for releasing classified State documents, and the late Aaron Swartz.
Swartz, the 26-year-old computer programming whiz and activist who played a major role in the demise of the Stop Online Piracy Act, had taken his life just two months previously. Swartz, who gave a keynote address at the 2012 Freedom to Connect conference, was being prosecuted for alleged computer trespass crimes.
His 2012 F2C speech dwelt on the campaign – begun in part by Swartz – to defeat the Hollywood-promoted Stop Online Piracy Act. That legislative proposal was defeated in January 2012.
The somber tone continued with remarks by Darcy Burner, who remembered the passing of her friend. She asked the audience to question who their enemies were and why. Quoting Swartz, she said, “when there’s a problem you shouldn’t get angry with the gears – you should fix the machine.”
Dan Gillmor, director of Arizona State University’s journalism school, asked the audience to question what the world could do as a collective body going forward. Gillmor, expressed his belief that “governments aren’t taking liberties away,” and that it is the people who are in fact giving their liberties away. Gillmor also expressed the need to embrace and research alternative operating systems, noting the efficiency of programs like Linux or Ubuntu. Gillmor hoped that the future of the internet can be one that fuses freedom and convenience online back together.
Later in the day, Christopher Mitchell, of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and its Community Broadband Networks web site, hoped aloud that “this is not the golden age of the internet.”
Mitchell said he hoped that the world has yet to know the capabilities of the web. Mitchell compared the essential role of the internet in current society to the importance of bridges and roads. He would also sing the praises of smaller, local networks. These networks keep more money and jobs in smaller communities, he said. Mitchell also expressed his hope that major cable companies would one day cease being “the gate keepers of the internet.”
Following Mitchell, Trevor Timm of the newly formed Freedom of the Press Foundation spoke of his groups hopes and goals moving forward. The foundation, figure-headed by actor John Cusack, has begun to navigate the legal waters of funding Wikileaks and Julian Assange. They provide the opportunity to donate money to their society that would be used to publish more Wikileaks documents.
In a panel discuss on money, corruption and telecommunications politics. Moderator Tim Karr spoke of how the influence industry at hand corrupts telecommunications policy. Panelist Catherine Rice said that the government would work to redefine what is “a comparable upload speed.” Rice believed that a 3 Migabits per second threshold used by many is not an accurate reflection of what is necessary for a robust internet connection.