Keep the Internet open

May 29th, 2012 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

An op-ed in the NY Times by father of the :

The Internet stands at a crossroads. Built from the bottom up, powered by the people, it has become a powerful economic engine and a positive social force. But its success has generated a worrying backlash. Around the world, repressive regimes are putting in place or proposing measures that restrict free expression and affect fundamental rights. The number of governments that censor Internet content has grown to 40 today from about four in 2002. And this number is still growing, threatening to take away the Internet as you and I have known it.

It is no longer only China and Iran.

Some of these steps are in reaction to the various harms that can be and are being propagated through the network. Like almost every major infrastructure, the Internet can be abused and its users harmed. We must, however, take great care that the cure for these ills does not do more harm than good. The benefits of the open and accessible Internet are nearly incalculable and their loss would wreak significant social and economic damage.

Not all censorship of the Internet is done for bad intentions. UK PM David Cameron said he wanted the ability to turn off Twitter as it may have been used by criminals during the London rioting. Now that may be with good intentions, but then Iran would be turning it off during the pro-democracy protests.

Against this background, a new front in the battle for the Internet is opening at the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations organization that counts 193 countries as its members. It is conducting a review of the international agreements governing telecommunications and aims to expand its regulatory authority to the Internet at a summit scheduled for December in Dubai.

This should be of great concern to everyone. The reason the Internet has had the success it has had, is because it grew under the open processes of the IETF and IAB, not the bureaucratic monstrosity known as the ITU.

Such a move holds potentially profound — and I believe potentially hazardous — implications for the future of the Internet and all of its users.

Quite simply, it must not be allowed to happen.

Each of the 193 members gets a vote, no matter its record on fundamental rights — and a simple majority suffices to effect change. 

Total up all the countries that are not true democracies, and you get close to a majority.

Last June, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated the goal of Russia and its allies as “establishing international control over the Internet” through the I.T.U. And in September 2011, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan submitted a proposal for an “International Code of Conduct for Information Security” to the U.N. General Assembly, with the goal of establishing government-led “international norms and rules standardizing the behavior of countries concerning information and cyberspace.”

China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – what could go wrong.

Several authoritarian regimes reportedly would ban anonymity from the Web, which would make it easier to find and arrest dissidents. Others have suggested moving the privately run system that manages domain names and Internet addresses to the United Nations.

Governments could use the domain name system to force compliance with their censorship desires.

The decisions taken in Dubai in December have the potential to put government handcuffs on the Net. To prevent that — and keep the Internet open and free for the next generations — we need to prevent a fundamental shift in how the Internet is governed.

I hope the NZ Government takes this issue seriously and makes sure we advocate as strongly as we can that the ITU should have no role in Internet governance,, beyond its current mandate with telecommunication standards.

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17 Responses to “Keep the Internet open”

  1. davidp (3,581 comments) says:

    >It is no longer only China and Iran.

    True. It includes NZ which blocks web sites based on a secret list that DIA maintain. And Australia which has a similar list. The Australian list was leaked at one stage and included a number of sites that had no links with the stated anti-pornography criteria, including sites that were opposed to the Australian government internet censorship policies.

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  2. ephemera (557 comments) says:

    The saddest thing about David Cameron’s glib “turn Twitter off” comments, was that in actual fact Twitter wasn’t used by criminals in the riots at all. He had it confused with the Blackberry BBM system, and Blackberry co-operate with the Metropolitan Police anyway.

    Just another example of politicians who don’t quite understand technology, to be filed alongside the Tory’s “porno opt-in.”

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  3. Other_Andy (2,676 comments) says:

    “Against this background, a new front in the battle for the Internet is opening at the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations organization…..”

    The UN is the biggest threat to freedom in the world.
    Democracies have been a minority within the UN since 1958.
    The UN is controlled by a bunch of money wasting, corrupt, anti-semetic mysogonistic, dictatorial countries.

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  4. jonno1 (82 comments) says:

    Correct ephemera. And furthermore, all cellphone service providers have a two-level system whereby “ordinary” users are switched off while emergency services remain connected during a civil emergency, for obvious reasons.

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  5. OTGO (551 comments) says:

    Could also be because governments can’t find a way to tax the internet.

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  6. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    Could also be because governments can’t find a way to tax the internet.

    Some plan to tax accessing the Internet – Labour, for instance (a great idea from Clare Curren /sarc)

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  7. elscorcho (154 comments) says:

    If it’s OK for the Uk to switch it off during riots, it’s OK for Iran to switch it off during riots.

    Stop imposing your moral viewpoint on a SOVEREIGN STATE.

    You want to be morally relative, fine, but then you have to take the good with the bad – and there will be some who would say the riots in London were justified (not me, but it’s a slippery slope once you say “Our X good, your X bad”

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  8. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    Both the ITU and the UN should keep their grubby fingers off the Internet.

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  9. DJP6-25 (1,387 comments) says:

    Reason #957 why any sane democracy or republic should leave the UN. Let the kleptocrats, theocrats and dictators talk to themselves.

    cheers

    David Prosser

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  10. flipper (4,065 comments) says:

    Agree with you DPF….and also with Other_Andy.

    But already the process has started in NZ. Notwithstanding any good intention, the Law Commission poking its grubby fingers into the ‘net and the medfia is the START OF THE SLIPPERY SLOPE.

    I can envisage the wankers at MFAT trading off the internet to get UN Security Council votes (Pray tell me what value SC membership is apart from the self aggrandisement of MFAT wallahs and the odd Minister?

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  11. Nostalgia-NZ (5,206 comments) says:

    flipper

    The Law Commission getting involved with the internet is a good thing, if cyberspace is allowed to reign unchecked then the arguments to restrict it are strengthened.

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  12. flipper (4,065 comments) says:

    Nostalgia
    Not so.

    WWW started without Government involvement.

    It succeeded BECAUSE Gummints were/are NOT involved.

    The Law Commission is about Government censorship of media (inc bloggers). That would be a return to the days (For NZ, anyway) when Radio NZ news broadcasts were vetted/edited by Governmen ‘crats.

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  13. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    Ah – yes DPF. I recall that you are very keen for NZ to become a republic and that we need a new flag…..
    as though that will really make a difference to anything important….
    But your big challenge is not the commonwealth and how its organised…

    Its the United Nations who is going to screw you over – and they dont care who the head of state is or what the flag looks like.

    The UN has got climate under its wing (even though its slowing becoming apparent that climate isnt controlled by carbon emissions)and is doing its best to bring all governments under its direction and now it wants to control the internet – among other things.

    time to direct your constitutional efforts at the UN and forget wasting your time thinking that a republic will solve it all.

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  14. hamish99 (3 comments) says:

    While I think controlling the internet is clearly a bad thing, maybe some good could come of it. In the same way a people invent new ways to download files or get around copy protection measures, maybe we’ll get a new kind of internet – something that no one has imagined yet. Governments banning things seems to be one of the big catalysts for online innovation.

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  15. Nostalgia-NZ (5,206 comments) says:

    flipper
    8.31

    Cyberspace does need control. You think it’s relates to censorship but I don’t agree. It’s about the type of speech, incitement and other issues dangerous to users that needs work. The Law Commission were looking particularly at cyber-bullying, in respect of children, incitement to suicide and other important issues that normal users wouldn’t condone anyway – but the fact is they’re happening. There has been a major settlement between a message board recently and a person who the board acknowledged by public apology had been harmed by the content posted by board members in contravention to board rules. Tidying it up won’t hurt anybody that conducts themselves properly and as one might expect in person or through the print media.

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  16. flipper (4,065 comments) says:

    Nostalgia…
    That sounds plausible AND reasonable. But it is NOT.

    The Law Commission was asked TO LOOK AT Cyber-bullying.

    They then proceeded to follow Australian “Frankenstein[sic]” committee and to delve into other isssues, including the Press Council.

    Such freedoms that we have should be preserved and enhanced – not whittled away. The best approach would be to amend the (our) Bill of Rights to preserve all freedoms of speech, whether in cyberspace or not.

    As for the message board case you mention, there is also a recent Canadian High Court decision taking a totally different stance.

    I would hate to think that you might, and trust that you do not, have a vested interest, and that Upton Sinclair well known observation applies:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
    ― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

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  17. Nostalgia-NZ (5,206 comments) says:

    flipper
    2.37

    Yes, look at cyber bullying, stalking, on line defamation and so on. They took submissions of course one by DPF that I’ve read.
    The discussion re the Press Council was regarding self-governance control as a way for the public to have redress over material printed on the internet, the precedent for on line defamation being set – since the hearing I believe. There was also comment from both the Law Commission and more recently the Minister of Justice of use of the Harassment Act to be more clearly defined by amendment to apply. The case is that some of these remedies are already working, practice and precedent having advanced the way.

    I could possibly be considered to have a vested interest but not by salary, and probably not at all. The electronic age advanced and the Law practitioners considered new laws were required for control, or worried that there were no precedents. However, a more fundamental approach was always available as it transpires – recognition that the ‘written word’ has no material difference by being in a newspaper, or printed in cyberspace. My original point however was that a foundation understanding of the lack of difference in a word or a sentence whether in cyberspace or elsewhere, prevents the need to close the internet. That’s why I appreciate the approach by the Law Commission and the Courts as hopefully to standardise cyber space with other print mediums to avoid draconian measures that might otherwise surface.

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