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Iceland: A haven for free speech

June 21, 2010

By facilitating the dissemination of information to an extent far beyond any technology that has come before it, the Internet has enabled businesses to reach a global market more easily than ever before, given rise to the phenomenon of social networking, provided instant, easy access to knowledge and experience in every field, and turned connected devices into entertainment systems with access to a vast array of media.  One of the more important ways in which the Internet has changed society, has come under the media spotlight recently as a result of the work of

Wikileaks, described by itself as a “multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists, and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public”, allows people wishing to share information of a sensitive nature to do so with a wide audience, anonymously.  By, to some extent, removing the risk associated with revealing sensitive information, the site has arguably led to the publication of a wide array of stories that may otherwise not have seen the light of day.  It has been said that in its short lifetime since its creation in 2007, the website has produced more scoops than the Washington Post has in 30 years.

The site drew increased attention recently after founder Julian Assange, along with a variety of experts from different fields, working in conjunction with politicians and activists in Iceland, developed the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative.  This proposal was made to the Icelandic Parliament in February, and after passing unanimously last week, stands to make Iceland the World’s free speech capital by offering the strongest protection to those who wish to reveal sensitive information.  The new laws aim to protect the identity of whistleblowers, protect publishers, and provide immunity to intermediaries such as internet service providers.

This is a recent indication of how the law is likely to play only an auxillary role in the censorship of information in future.  Growing ever more important is an understanding that control of the dissemination of material online is rarely a viable option, and instead parties with a strong interest in their reputation should prepare themselves to counter damaging content not by bringing legal action, but by responding in kind – by engaging in discussion.  Knowledge of how, and where, to look for discourse that might damage a reputation, along with an awareness of the risks involved when taking action to remedy this, are crucial to public figures, governments, businesses and in fact anyone whose reputation is important to them.