One year ago, U.S. lawmakers discovered what happens when you mess with the internet, as Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, and millions of ordinary users helped “black out” the net on January 18 to protest SOPA and PIPA—two controversial pieces of legislation that were designed to fight online piracy, but threatened instead to censor the internet and disrupt the way it functions. Since that day, there has been a rise in new laws around the world that restrict free speech online and prompt arrests of internet users, a key trend identified in Freedom House’s 2012 Freedom on the Netreport.
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The current strain in U.S. relations with Russia sums up the challenges of dealing with authoritarian rulers. They vigorously object to any criticism of their human rights record, yet even when such criticism is muted, they may still resist cooperation with the United States on major security issues. The Obama administration has resisted moves by Congress to sanction human rights abusers in Russia, but President Vladimir Putin continues to intensify his crackdown on civil society and block international efforts to stop mass atrocities in Syria. The time has come for the United States to take a fresh look at its relations with Russia and with other dictatorships around the world.