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Soros study tries to fit E. European peg in US round hole

Bridging the divide does nothing of the sort

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As a rule of thumb, it is wise to be cautious of organisations that have eagles in their coats of arms, or the word "democracy" in their titles. So when we looked at the Centre for Democracy and Technology report "Bridging the divide" on Internet access in Central and Eastern Europe which has just been published, it turned out that our caution was prudent. CDT, which is widely supported by major US IT organisations, was funded for this study by the Open Society Institute, a front for George Soros' foundations, and prepared for the Global Internet Liberty Campaign. CDT's mission statement is that it "works to promote democratic values and constitutional liberties in the digital age... to enhance free expression and privacy". But the "democratic values" are American values, and the "constitutional liberties" that are "promoted globally" derive from US law. There is a certain self-righteous do-gooding in CDT's work, and it is for them to act politically as they wish within the United States. But in Central and Eastern Europe - let alone the rest of the developing world - it is somewhat foolish to assume that the American way of life should always be replicated, and that Internet access should be a priority. Many people would consider that a supply of food, clean water, a refrigerator and access to health services would be ahead of either American notions of liberty or enriching Intel, Microsoft, Cisco & Co. Did the researchers really appreciate that in several of the CEE countries surveyed, the GDP per capita is less than the cost of a PC and a year's modest Internet access, and that probably a minority of households had refrigerators? We were not impressed by a justifying 1994 quotation from the Council of Europe - pre-Gates' discovery of the internet in the second edition of The Road Ahead - about the danger of a two-tier society of have and have-nots, where the latter might "reject the new information culture". We can nearly all agree about the desirability of not charging by the minute for telecom access, but it is naive for the main authors (who are lawyers) to expect developing countries to do anything else when telephony is still a scarce resource. The report does not add very much more than a civil rights perspective against censorship and support for privacy - and curiously contains cogent arguments for what in the EU is known as data protection law, which does not yet exist in the United States, where freedom dictates an unenforceable voluntary code. Perhaps it would have been wiser for the CDT to make some proposals about the home front before going beyond its borders. The data presented is seriously dated (for example, 1996 data is used for Internet access in eastern Europe) and does not appear to draw on the more up-to-date information in the European Information Technology Observatory annual studies, or cite data presented at the IDC Eastern European IT Forum in Prague last year. There is also a great deal of other more up-to-date information available on the Web that was not consulted. This report brings home the essential need for ideologically-based organisations to use information professionals in analysing data, especially when it relates to countries with cultures and political systems that differ greatly from that of the United States. ®

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