An op-ed by Professors John Palfrey and Jonathan Zittrain: Choices for Turkey in the digital age

Professor John Palfrey ’01 and Visiting Professor Jonathan Zittrain ’95, was published in the Turkish Daily News on March 5, 2008.The core boon and bane of the combined Internet and personal computer is its “generativity.”Generativity means the ability for people all over the world — people without particular credentials or wealth or connections — to use and then share the power of technology for a variety of ends. Many of these uses have been unanticipated or, if anticipated, would never have been thought to be valuable at first. When the Internet was first created, no one would have imagined that the world’s largest encyclopedia could be written entirely by amateurs, and yet we have Wikipedia….In Turkey, the Internet has been largely free from government controls. Free expression and innovation have found homes online, in ways that benefit culture and the economy.But there are signs that this freedom may be nearing its end, just as the benefits to be reaped are growing. When the state chooses to ban entire services for the many because of the acts of the few, the threat to innovation and creativity is high. Those states that have erected extensive censorship and surveillance regimes online have found them hard to implement with any degree of accuracy and fairness. And, more costly, the chilling effect on citizens who rely on the digital world for their livelihood and key aspects of their culture — in fact, the ability to remake their own cultural objects — is a high price to pay for control.The impact of the choice Turkey makes today will be felt over decades and generations. Turkey’s choice also has international ramifications. If Turkey decides to clamp down on Internet activity, it will be lending aid to those who seek to see the Internet chopped into a series of local networks — the China Wide Web, the Iran Wide Web, and so forth — rather than continuing to build a truly World Wide Web. For Turkey, and for the global community, the Internet is worth saving.Professor Jonathan Zittrain is the chair of Internet governance at the University of Oxford and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Professor John Palfrey is executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.

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