This week’s theme: The fight for digital freedom


Padraig Reidy, senior writer, and Brian Pellot, digital adviser, for Index on Censorship are our guest editors for this week. They introduce us to their theme and to a range of writers, experts and activists engaged in the fight for digital freedom.

Padraig Reidy Brian Pellot
11 March 2013

For over 40 years, Index on Censorship has campaigned for freedom of expression as the foundation of a free society.

Through our advocacy, campaigns and reporting we challenge threats to free expression and give a voice to journalists, writers, artists and activists who have been prevented from speaking out. 


The battle against censorship is increasingly fought online.

“World-wide web” is a phrase that trips easily off the tongue. But the web faces a crisis: as more and more of us across the world use the web, more and more pressure is being exerted to undermine its global nature.

Authoritarian countries openly boast of the powerful mechanisms they put in place to curb the “corrupting” influences of the web; international culture clashes spark debates on whether what’s protecting speech in one country counts as incitement in another; fears over copyright risk undermining both artistic expression and the sharing and duplicating nature of the internet, and controversies over hate speech, bullying and offence on social media threaten to stifle debate.

This week on openDemocracy, Index on Censorship looks at the challenges that lie ahead and asks, will it be possible to keep the internet truly open for all?

We began our contribution with Index Chief Executive Kirsty Hughes outlining the key battlegrounds for the free internet. She was joined by Jillian C. York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation who warns us that while the web holds the promise of global interaction, national governments are increasingly seeking to build up virtual borders.  The question of copyright is one of the most hotly-debated digital issues. Joe McNamee explained why getting it wrong will change the very nature of the web.

This was followed by Helen Lewis of the New Statesman, asking "if online comment threads really do help democratise online media”, and prompting some searching discussion. On Wednesday, Brian Pellot drew attention to how our offline public squares have moved online to social networking sites, and called upon private companies to keep these channels of public discourse open.

On Thursday, Padraig Reidy and Mahima Kaul examine how out of touch legislation puts web users in danger in two different democracies – the UK and India.

Today, Index’s China correspondent asks if China can maintain its internet censorship system, and Elena Vlasenko looks at a challenge to Russia’s controversial online extremism law - finishing our overview.

Want to know more? Read Index on Censorship’s recently-published policy note Standing Up To Threats to Digital Freedom

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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