Information Wars Continue
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

As we argued previously, a defining struggle of this decade may be over the control of information.

As information becomes cheaper and cheaper to obtain and process, states, even in democracies, will increasingly want to control it. But this control, though it may play some useful roles in combating terrorism or making certain aspects of public service delivery more efficient, also has the potential of undermining inclusive political institutions — or what’s left of them.

The US government’s hardline attitudes against whistle-blowers should be viewed as part of this oncoming information wars.

With the overwhelming resources of states such as the United States, the United Kingdom or China, these information wars may appear lopsided.

But as long as (some of) the media remains free, the victory of the state over civil society is not a foregone conclusion.

In fact, one way of reading recent events is to see them as the reaction of states that feel frustrated because of their inability to fully control all of that information.

Pres. Obama had to retreat and instigate a review of National Security Agency’s practices, even if he surreally claimed that this was all planned before Edward  Snowden’s embarrassing revelations about secret NSA programs.

And now comes the UK government’s overreaction, detaining the partner of The Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald at Heathrow under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. But the detention of David Miranda, who is a Brazilian national, looks nothing like a terrorism-related incident and everything like a clumsy threat to journalists brave enough to fight the war against the state’s control of information.

It seems like information wars are continuing.

Article originally appeared on Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (
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