Internet policy people will be interested in the interview the Herald did with Peter Dengate-Thrush, the NZers who chairs ICANN – the global allocator of domain names and IP addresses. Some extracts:
In terms of safety is the web getting better or worse?
“The internet is neutral about these things – it’s really a question about the users. One of the reasons I’m participating in this is to assist with the constant requirement for user education – in this case we’ll be educating the educators. It’s a bit like saying is fire a good thing or is the wheel a good thing. It’s good when it’s done properly.”
That’s a great response. The Internet is no more good or bad than fire or wheels are.
What are the biggest threats to our internet freedom?
“The biggest threat to the internet itself is developing the wrong culture along the lines that I was just talking about. If we get that wrong, it’ll be humans and the way that humans use this particular tool that will cause the problems. You’ve got to be clear – there’s nothing inherently good or bad in the technology itself, it’s what we choose to do with it.
Our own stupidity that could trip us up?
“Yes. The sort of threats at the moment come from people attempting to impose controls and that runs into all the usual problems that we’ve struggled with over the centuries of this civilisation.
“Where the boundaries are between harmful knowledge and harmful expression and the right to freedom of expression. Getting the balance right is always very difficult. It seems clearer in war time for example when there’s an acknowledged crisis, civil liberties are curtailed. Absent those circumstances we struggle to be as clear as we can. Another clear example is the universal prohibition on child pornography and the exploitation of children. Those don’t cause much debate – it’s in political expression and inciting racial hatred and these sorts of areas where the current debate is raging.
I think religious expression is very much a topical issue also.
Do you think we’ll be left with another toothless [copyright] law with one test case that will fall over at appeal and leave us back at square one?
“There’s a worse case than it being toothless and that’s it being very toothful – ISPs having to go around closing down all sorts of relatively routine and safe and stable websites because they happen to be hosting – even if it’s against their knowledge – some infringing material.
The new law removed any penalty for filing a false takedown notice, so the potential for misuse is considerable.
Should it be up to ISPs to police the behaviour of their customers? It’s almost like Transit NZ being blamed for a road crash.
“Occasionally Transit are responsible for that if they’ve designed the road badly, but in this case, I take the view that ISPs have a role that’s supposed to be no greater that that of other citizens in relation to infringements. I particularly disagree with the thrust of the current amendment, which turns the ISPs into enforcement agents for copyright owners. I’m a copyright lawyer and I’ve acted for copyright owners and I’ve written on the value of copyright to the community. It’s not an attack on copyright but we do need to get the balance right between copyright interests and the rights of ordinary citizens and what’s good for the internet industries.
For an intellectual property lawyer, he speaks a lot of sense