As human beings, we all have the fundamental right to access knowledge. This right allows us to learn, grow, and develop as individuals, and is crucial for the progress and advancement of society as a whole. Access to knowledge is a fundamental right that enables individuals to develop their intellectual and cognitive capacities, as well as to participate in the democratic life of society. In any country, access to knowledge is essential for the advancement of science and innovation, the promotion of critical thinking, and the dissemination of reliable information. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles that prevent people from accessing knowledge, such as censorship, restrictive intellectual property laws, and inequalities in education and information distribution. This article will examine the importance of access to knowledge, the role of activists in promoting access, and the challenges that remain in achieving universal access.
Right to access knowledge – Access to knowledge also enables innovation and progress
Access to knowledge is not limited to formal education, but also extends to access to books, online resources, and information from governments and institutions. Access to information is vital for individuals to make informed decisions about their lives, and to hold their governments accountable. Access to knowledge also enables innovation and progress, as new ideas can build on existing knowledge. In this sense, access to knowledge is essential for the social, economic, and cultural development of any society.
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One of the challenges in achieving universal access to knowledge is the existence of intellectual property laws that restrict access to knowledge. Intellectual property laws are designed to incentivize innovation and creativity by providing creators with exclusive rights to their creations. However, these laws can also limit access to knowledge and hinder the spread of ideas. For example, copyright laws can prevent the dissemination of educational materials or scientific research, and restrict access to knowledge for those who cannot afford to pay for it. Activists like Aaron Swartz have fought against restrictive intellectual property laws and advocated for open access to knowledge. Swartz’s work focused on promoting open access to academic research and he played a key role in the creation of Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that provides free licenses for creators to share their work.
The role of activists in promoting access to knowledge is essential, as they raise awareness about the importance of access and advocate for changes in policy and practice. Activists have been instrumental in promoting open access to information and knowledge. For example, WikiLeaks, a non-profit organization founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, has played a key role in exposing government and corporate wrongdoing by publishing leaked documents. In 2010, WikiLeaks released the “Collateral Murder” video, which showed US military personnel killing civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists. The release of this video sparked widespread public outrage and shed light on the horrors of the war in Iraq. WikiLeaks has also published secret diplomatic cables that have exposed corruption and human rights abuses around the world.
Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, is another activist who has played a crucial role in exposing government wrongdoing. In 2013, Snowden leaked classified documents to journalists that revealed the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs, which included spying on American citizens and foreign leaders. Snowden’s revelations sparked a global debate about privacy and government surveillance, and led to important reforms in the US and abroad.
Despite the important role of activists in promoting access to knowledge, there are still many challenges that remain. For example, censorship and restrictive intellectual property laws continue to limit access to information and knowledge. In many countries, governments censor the internet and restrict access to information that is critical of their policies or leaders. In addition, copyright laws can prevent the free dissemination of knowledge and restrict access for those who cannot afford to pay for it.
Under US law, the NSA has no limits on monitoring or conducting secret activities with foreign nationals abroad, including citizens of allied countries, but the NSA is prohibited from arbitrarily monitoring Americans. In a congressional hearing, a senior security official pledged before the public that the NSA would never engage in such surveillance activities. However, Snowden’s leaked information clearly showed that it was a lie.
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To avoid being charged by the US, Snowden flew to Russia and was granted a political asylum visa and has lived there since 2013. If he returns to the US, he will face a trial and imprisonment. Meanwhile, he still receives many international awards, especially from Germany, for his courage in revealing the truth about NSA activities.
Jacob Appelbaum became famous as a free investigative journalist and a computer security expert who specializes in supporting non-profit organizations. This led him to become a key member of the Tor project (a browser that allows users to remain anonymous online). He also enthusiastically collaborated with WikiLeaks in analyzing and publishing information from Snowden’s documents. He had knowledge that most reporters did not have to help him decipher and explain the role and significance of technical details.
In 2014, Appelbaum received Germany’s highest journalism award in a series of articles in Der Spiegel about the NSA eavesdropping on phone conversations of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This revelation led to a rupture in diplomacy between Germany and the US.
I met Appelbaum in Seattle in early 2013 when he was preparing to leave the US to live in exile in Germany. He told me that the US government was constantly harassing him, threatening him, targeting his online accounts, and seizing his computer when he returned home from overseas trips, and they were suspicious of him.
The presence of Daniel Ellsberg at Appelbaum’s thesis defense was a deeply symbolic act. In the early 1970s, Ellsberg played a crucial role in mobilizing opposition to the Vietnam War. He was an intelligence analyst for the RAND Corporation, where he helped the US Department of Defense write a top-secret report on the political and military intervention of the US in Vietnam from 1945-1967. The report was called the Vietnamese National Liberation Front’s Office of Political Warfare (OPW) Report, but it was commonly known as the Pentagon Papers. After completing this report, Ellsberg decided that the public really needed to know about this history. He leaked the report to the Washington Post and the New York Times.
The Pentagon Papers revealed that the US government under President Lyndon Johnson systematically deceived the American people about their intentions, and secretly expanded the war in Southeast Asia, including bombing in Laos, Cambodia, and attacking the coast of Vietnam. It showed that five US presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson) misled the public about what they were doing in Vietnam.
The US Department of Justice charged Ellsberg with espionage and a series of other serious charges, but the judge in the case dismissed all charges when it was discovered that a scandal showed that President Nixon and his associates had wanted to interfere with the outcome of the trial. This illegal interference was so shocking that it played a significant role in Nixon’s impeachment and resignation in 1974.
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Ellsberg is now 91 years old. His presence at Appelbaum’s doctoral thesis defense is a symbol of steadfastness to a goal from one generation to another, from this historical era to another. Ellsberg also supports Assange and Snowden, whom he sees as fellow fighters struggling for the public’s right to know about what the government is doing.
In capitalist countries, the profit motive often hinders the implementation of social responsibility policies. For example, the fossil fuel industry is extremely powerful in the US and many other countries, to the point where they have blocked or reversed efforts to transition to more sustainable energy sources. Similarly, the publishing industry is now controlled by only a few giant corporations, all of which are publicly traded and must maximize short-term profits to satisfy investors. The executives leading these companies are motivated to work not out of love for books but out of love for money.
The result is that the price of each book, especially textbooks, is excessively high. E-books are usually “softer” in price, but most people want to read paper books, especially non-fiction books. Therefore, companies’ profit control of the publishing industry and the result of high book prices are obstacles to distributing knowledge to the public.
At the beginning of my career as a mathematician in the 1970s, I wanted to build a math library with books written by top mathematicians in their field. Since I knew Russian and had the opportunity to study in Moscow, I bought many Russian books translated from books by American, British, and French mathematicians. These translated books were much cheaper (less than 1/10) than the original books in the UK or France. The Soviet government subsidized book publishing very heavily because books – no different from food or housing – were strongly subsidized and considered essential needs of the people.
The price of books, especially textbooks, in the US has skyrocketed since the 1970s. A book for a science course often costs over $100. Many years ago, my university required incoming students to spend an average of $1,200 per year on textbooks. Now that amount has decreased – about $900 – but that’s because e-books are readily available and many professors have tried to select free learning materials for students.
In the US, attacks on public knowledge rights often appear in very unexpected ways. Recently, the predominantly conservative members of the US Supreme Court have ruled that states have the right to consider abortion as a crime. Currently, this conflicting issue between “red states” (states governed by far-right Republicans) and “blue states” (states governed by Democrats) is becoming more heated than any conflict between the two sides since the Civil War (1961-1965). In red states, obstetricians and gynecologists are not only prohibited from performing abortion procedures, but also often refuse to treat female patients who have miscarriages because they are afraid of being accused of illegal abortions. The laws in many red states not only criminalize abortion but also criminalize any effort to inform women how to access early safe abortion services through online pharmacies and how to seek transportation to abortion providers in later stages, in states that protect women’s reproductive rights. The result of these laws is that if a woman living in a red state becomes pregnant and experiences complications that could be life-threatening, she may not be able to access timely information on how to access life-saving medical services, simply because people are afraid of being accused of providing her with that information.
I began this article with a tragic story of the US government’s condemnation of a talented Internet developer and activist for freedom of information. But more tragic than the death of a creative and idealistic young man would be the deaths of many American women simply because the laws of their state prohibit them from accessing information about abortion. In this case, the right to public knowledge is closely tied to the human rights of women.
The right to access knowledge is not just a basic human right, but also an essential component for the growth and development of individuals and society. By ensuring that everyone has equal access to information and education, we can create a more just and equitable world. At odaily.info we are committed to advocating for and protecting this right, and we encourage you to join us in our efforts. Visit [Tên trang web] to learn more about our work and how you can get involved in promoting the right to access knowledge.
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