This article was authored by Cyber Stewards Network members at the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting
Cyber Stewards Walid Al-Saqaf, Hisham Al-Miraat, Ramsey George, and Reem Al-Masri, along with Citizen Lab affiliates Morgan Marquis-Boire and Lidija Sabados, were among the participants of the fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting, which took place in Amman, Jordan during 20-23 January.
On the second day of the event, Walid Al-Saqaf and Ramsey George organized a two-hour workshop to introduce the Cyber Stewards Network to interested participants. Walid and Ramsey described the Cyber Stewards Networks and its objectives and also provided a background on the Citizen Lab as a whole with a special emphasis on its work in researching Internet censorship and surveillance.
Walid Al-Saqaf illustrated how being a part of the network has benefited him tremendously in his research and activism. He indicated that the network allowed him to engage with others through the Cyber Dialogue Conference in Toronto as well as the most recent Internet Governance Forum, which took place in Indonesia last year.
Walid said he felt that the Cyber Stewards Network had the potential of finding ways to create bridges between Internet researchers and activists from the global south with counterparts in the global north. He added that the events he attended through the network were of immense value for him to expand his own network and support his research around Internet censorship and circumvention in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, Ramsey George used the workshop to highlight the work that he and his colleagues at 7iber have been involved with through the Cyber Stewards Network. One of these projects is a research blog called ‘Wireless,’ which attempts to discuss issues around Internet governance, freedom of expression and access online. Ramsey expressed his ambition to work on data visualization in connection to Internet infrastructure in the Arab region and specifically in Jordan. This project would place special emphasis on growing privacy concerns in light of users’ ignorance about who controls the different network components through which their data flows.
Participants in the meeting expressed interest in the Cyber Stewards Network and highlighted the importance of such initiatives in creating greater understanding between scholars and activists interested in Internet issues. Participants raised a proposal to expand the network by allowing non-members to participate through mailing lists and other forms of communication.
Walid Al-Saqaf and Morgan Marquis-Boire were among four participants on a panel moderated by Jillian York. Walid warned against sacrificing free speech in the name of better privacy protection, while Morgan argued that censorship is now easy to detect and bypass whereas surveillance is becoming of greater concern. In response, Walid argued that the excessive focus on surveillance is increasingly putting free speech in the background, which is a particularly grave concern to activists in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. He said that while the US and other Western states may take free speech taken for granted, the Arab world still lags behind and activists need to remain focused on efforts to fight oppressive practices against bloggers and other netizens. He argued, “In a prison cell I have all the privacy I need, but I cannot reach the world to say what I want.” After a heated debate between the two sides, the discussion concluded with a mutual agreement that surveillance and censorship are inextricably intertwined and represent two sides of the same coin.
 Some Tweets in relation to the panel discussion could be found here: http://seen.co/event/the-4th-arab-bloggers-meeting-amman-jordan-2014-9415/highlight/3123