As Internet users search for ways to share information while protecting their privacy, DW's 'The Bobs' is looking for the best examples of online activism for its 10th annual award. Submissions can be made until March 5.
Since it started in 2004, The Bobs, Deutsche Welle's award for online activism, has focused on recognizing efforts made to protect freedom of expression not just for the media, but also for individuals around the world.
"Before this era of connectivity, freedom of expression was - mostly - a privilege of those with access to mass media," said Jose Luis Orihuela, a former member of The Bobs' jury and professor of multimedia communication at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain.
"From the revolution of blogs, freedom of expression is a right that should be protected for every single citizen because a connected phone lets everyone be part of the global media," Orihuela said.
A game of cat and mouse
But depending on where people lived, sharing opinions with the world has always been a dangerous proposition as Internet freedom has declined around the world, according to watchdog organization Freedom House's annual report for 2013.
"We are seeing the continued used of violence against journalists and bloggers, which the world needs to keep watch on," said Hauke Gierow, the head of the Internet freedom desk at Reporters Without Borders Germany.
Ten years ago, Internet surveillance was a known problem in China, Iran and under other repressive regimes. Activists and those opposed to the governments, aware they were being watched, had to take steps to get around censors and avoid exposing themselves and their work to the authorities.
The Chinese government goes to great lengths to prevent the public from accessing the websites and online services it wants to block and a cat-and-mouse game between censors and people creating circumvention technology has gone on for decades, Gierow said. We Fight Censorship, a project run by Reporters Without Borders, lists 164 online activists in prison around the world.
After the revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, however, it has become clear that it is not only the citizens living under authoritarian regimes that need to be concerned about their right to privacy. The documents Snowden revealed show the US National Security Agency (NSA) can, among other things, track phone calls, monitor text messages, and access people’s e-mail and web browsing history.
"The Snowden revelations should lead us to hold accountable those collaborating with governments to spy on everyone, to weaken our systems and undermine the trust of users," Renata Avila, a Guatemalan human rights and intellectual property lawyer and jury member for The Bobs, said.
While many people in the United States and other democratically governed countries trusted in government institutions to protect their privacy, The Bobs jury member Arash Abadpour said Iranians had already learned that they need to watch out for themselves.
"What Snowden did was show that this trust is sometimes imaginary," Abadpour said. "I sometimes wonder what a more practical level of trust is."
But until such a form of trust is created, Avila added, people around the world will need to continue to find ways to share information while protecting their privacy and safety.
"When mainstream press is silence, a blog hosted in a clever jurisdiction, shielded by anonymity is the antidote against censorship," she said.
The Bobs taking submissions
Starting on Wednesday (02.05.2014), The Bobs is again looking for people’s views on the best and most inspiring projects and campaigns in support of freedom of expression and online activism. Internet users from around the world have one month to make submissions in any of the contest’s 14 languages at www.thebobs.com.