Saturday, September 03, 2005

Open Access, Terrorism, and the Nonviolent Example

In his September 2005 Open Access Newsletter, Peter Suber talks about one of the strongest endorsements of open access to date, from the National Research Council. This group examined the possibility that open access could provide information that could be used by bioterrorists, and concluded: "Open access is essential if we are to maintain the progress needed to stay ahead of those who would attempt to cause harm".

Here are my thoughts on open access and terrorism.

The debate so far appears to have focused on whether open access would increase the threat of terrorism. The fact that the debate has focused on the negative (can open access increase the risk) and not even looked at the positive (can open access decrease the risk), is to me an indication that this is a strategic argument brought forward by persons wishing to protect a privileged financial or other status, and not at all an honest debate about what makes the most sense for our security.

This argument has never made sense to me. Even looking at information which could be used to create harm, what is it we want - to be sure the terrorists have paid for their subscription or pay-per-view? This is ridiculous - if information is too dangerous to share, it should not be published, period. Then, too, restricted access is much more likely to effectively mean no access for the law-abiding people who might be victims of terrorists, rather than the terrorists themselves. That is, if people are capable of murder, why would anyone assume they would balk at piracy?

What strikes me most today, however, is how much this debate has focused on the negative - the case for or against increased risk - and not the positive - the potential of open access to reduce the risk.

There are many complex reasons why I believe open access has the potential to greatly reduce the risk, which hopefully I - or others - will elaborate on in time. Picture, for example, education under the Taliban in Afganistan, in contrast with the potential of open access to our scholarly knowledge to advance education at all levels, everywhere.

Here is one thought how OA can increase prospects for security, starters:

If we are in agreement that violent, terrorist style protest is wrong: why not do everything we can to provide examples of how people have effectively used nonviolent techniques to effect great change? It is likely to take some time before all of our knowledge is openly accessible, particularly retrospective works. Why not prioritize sharing openly as much as we know about people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, Rosa Parks, and many, many more? There is some good freely available information in Wikipedia. Why not fill our institutional repositories with all the scholarly articles that have investigated the lives, histories and works of people such as this - or create special repositories for this purpose?

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