Duality and Recognition of Liberation Technology as Applied to Western Democracies

By EmmaKarin

Liberation Technology is a double-sided blade. We laud it for it’s ability to keep dissidents connected, to document and keep record of atrocities, but it can be turned against us so easily. Governments have the ability to use our reliance on ICTs for their own purposes. The same technology that frees us can be used to censor the Internet, create filters, track our Internet usages and criminalize us. Larry Diamond describes, “[l]iberation technology [as] any form of information and communication technology (ICT) that can expand political, social, and economic freedom” (70). Diamond focuses on the use of Liberation Technology in the “other-ed” part of the world, meaning the non-western world. His examples are rooted in the Middle East and Asia where, without a doubt, human right violations are far higher. But to imagine oppression and injustice as taking place only in places seen as “distant”, physically and politically, is damaging.

While we in the west have no issue imagining a Chinese dissident being hauled away to a detention center for posting an anti-authoritarian tweet, we are hard pressed to call up the image of our own government agencies serving subpoenas and summons to Twitter, “seeking records including the phone number, mailing addresses, and IP addresses associated” with dissident accounts (Wong). But why? We know the NSA keeps tabs on us. Every other week a new story breaks about the FBI demanding our social data. Most recently, the Department of Justice served DreamHost, a website-hosting company, with a search warrant, “for every piece of information it possessed that was related” to www.disruptj20.org, the website, “that was used to coordinate protests during Donald Trump’s inauguration” (Wong).

The J20 demonstrations are the perfect example of the duality of Liberation Technology within a Western Democratic country. J20 was the name given to the demonstration that took place to protest the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Before the demonstration, people used Facebook pages to organize smaller groups to meet and protest together under common banners, used its messenger service to coordinate transportation to and room, and their own personal pages to post general protest safety guides. During, people used Twitter to provide live updates about what was happening on the ground in real time and alerted people to first aid stations. After, hundreds of videos are uploaded to YouTube, photos posted to Instagram, and blog articles spread across the Internet providing factual accounts of the rampant police brutality and the systematic suppression of the protestor’s rights to assemble. This is seen as the positive side of liberation technology, ICTs bringing people together to, “enable citizens to report news, expose wrongdoings, express opinions, mobilize protest, monitor elections, scrutinize government, deepen participation, and expand the horizons of freedom” (Diamond 70).

The more daunting side of Liberation Technology that gets overlooked are the instances when it is used against us. For example, the D.C. police subpoenaing Facebook for, “the social data of several protesters” who participated in the J20 demonstration (Daileda). Or facial recognition software scanning Instagram photos of the protest to track down those in attendance, and tweet’s being used as evidence in court to convict protestors of felony charges of ‘conspiracy’ (Higgins). Law enforcement is already infiltrating Twitter and Facebook creating fake profiles, setting up traps, and generally using social media to gather intelligence to use against groups it deems a ‘terror-threat’ all in the name of keeping America safe. Just as authoritarian dictators are able to use ICTs to track down dissidents in their countries, so does the government of the United States.

Diamond makes the statement, “[t]here is now a technological race underway between democrats seeking to circumvent Internet censorship and dictatorships that want to extend and refine it” (81). Which is immediately followed up by the contradictory statement that Iran has made “significant gains in repression” because western companies have happened because, “Western companies like Nokia-Siemens are willing to sell them advanced surveillance and filtering technologies” (81). Diamond even concludes his article with ways Western countries can support those citizens in Authoritarian countries. He even concludes his paper with a quote from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supporting free access to the Internet.

The atrocities that occur in other parts of the world are horrific by comparison, but minimizing the violations perpetrated by our own government puts us all at risk for it’s continuation and escalation. We cannot continue to delude ourselves that our democracy is above surveillance. We cannot be so naïve to think these companies are only selling to “other-ed” countries, that they’re not using these technologies on their own citizens. Especially, because we do know that they are. We have proof that our civilized western democracy is spying on us, collecting data, and using our Internet use as a means to sustain their version of a civilized western democracy. We must remember, when she was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered for more intensive surveillance of American Citizens in the name of safety and freedom.

The good and bad side of Liberation Technology exists here in America and other Anglo countries and it must be recognized. Human right’s violations and oppression don’t happen solely “over-there” in those “uncivilized” and “un-democratic” regions of the world that most American’s can’t point out on the map. Turning injustice into a solely ‘other-worldly’ occurrence makes it easier to gloss over it when happens here, in our civilized western democracy.


Diamond, Larry. “Liberation Technology.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 21, no. 3, July 2010, pp. 69–83.


Levin, Sam. “FBI terrorism unit says ‘black identity extremists’ pose a violent threat.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Oct. 2017, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/06/fbi-black-identity-extremists-racial-profiling.


Daileda, Colin. “D.C. police demand Facebook hand over data on Trump protesters.” Mashable, Mashable, 6 Feb. 2017, mashable.com/2017/02/06/dc-police-subpoena-facebook-inauguration-protests/#k_Vkiy6miaq1.


Wong, Julia Carrie. “US government demands details on all visitors to anti-Trump protest website.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Aug. 2017, www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/14/donald-trump-inauguration-protest-website-search-warrant-dreamhost.


Higgins, Eoin. “Hundreds Face Conspiracy Charges For Actions Of A Few During Inauguration Day Protests.” The Intercept, 25 Oct. 2017, theintercept.com/2017/10/25/trump-inauguration-protest-j20-trial/. https://theintercept.com/2017/10/25/trump-inauguration-protest-j20-trial/



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