Renata Avila, who was in the city to participate in ‘Freedom Fest’, organised by Swecha a few weeks ago, tells YUNUS Y. LASANIA about her fight against global corporations, which she says, restrict freedom of speech on the web.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) often take down links on the web which violate copyright laws, and that has not gone down with online activists. Among them is 33-year old Guatemalan human rights lawyer and internet activist Renata Avila, who has been protesting surveillance and advocating a more independent web.

What is your priority today as a freedom activist?

Empowerment – for people to build a good network, [there needs to be] an internet that is not under the control of corporations and institutions, a single or a group of governments. Now, the internet is in the hands of one single country.

Are you alluding to the US (in the light of recent allegations of surveillance by the NSA)?

It is not just about surveillance by one country. It is also about copyright, which has been built solely for the benefit of Hollywood. They violate the ‘human rights sharing culture’, and criminalise sharing information.

Do you mean, for example, what happened to, which had to change its host country for allowing users to share files from person to person?

Yes. They have put one of the site’s founders in prison, in solitary confinement. That is how the system is. They will get you on charges for one crime or another. If you are doing something to liberate, you are treated like you are killing people.

And Facebook?

Facebook is evil! An absolutely terrible thing! Earlier, the government would need to collect information about a person for anything. Now they will simply turn to Facebook. The evil part is that the site changes its rules every two months. Such companies receive a National Security letter from the US government, mandating them to share their information.

And where does India stand in all this?

The situation here is worse. Security agencies share information with the NSA. All overseas IT companies have an unfair advantage over your innovations, and can access it easily.

So is there a way to be safe?

No one is safe. However, China has made it very tough for other governments to spy on them, though they spy on their own people. I don’t support it, but it’s a paradox!

But surveillance is done to identify terrorists, or at least, that’s what the NSA claims. Does it really help?

There is very little evidence to prove that surveillance has benefits, and that it has resulted in success anywhere. Also, such measures are not cheap. For example, if you set up a camera somewhere, you need someone to monitor it constantly. It is a very costly affair.

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