Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Civilized Internet? Anglo-American-EU efforts to triangulate on Internet governance

I have just returned from stinking hot Paris, where the #eOECD ran a magnificently organised conference, a follow-up to Seoul 2008, Ottawa 1998 and others. It ended with Chair's conclusions, a Communique, and a proposal by the conference's prime mover, the United States delegation, to move towards OECD Guidelines for member states on Internet governance principles. It also signaled a concerted attempt to triangulate between French attempts to arrive at a civilized Internet, and the horrified recoiling to such by several Internet companies.
So what happened? Well, mainly lots and lots of bilateral meetings away from the conference floor - this was very much a 'working conference'. I indulged myself in the fantastic opportunity to meet lots of old friends and some new ones - thanks OECD for both the invitation and the deserted (and cool) Media Room, not to mention the fizzy drinks at the evening reception...
The biggest public discussion was about intermediary liability - for the background, an excellent OECD primer is now available and was distributed at the conference (its predecessor is here), citing extensively the EC study which forms the background for this 'blog of The Book'. I did not hear the word 'co-regulation' used at all, even though it was the central mechanism that might have bridged some consensus.
So the headline is that the Internet Technical Advisory Committee (ITAC) agreed to the final text, as did the member states of course, the Business Industry Advisory Council (worth checking their view on updated OECD Guidelines for multinational corporate responsibility in developing countries, Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Vodafone please take note) and the trades unions. The civil society group did not, which some took as a sign that this first toe in the water of multistakeholderism by the OECD failed. Actually, I think that is why it succeeded, as I will try to briefly explain.
Principled objections that prevent consensus are a sign of mature discussion. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree about as fundamental an issue as the role of ISPs and other intermediaries, and Vint Cerf wearing his Google hat as well as ITAC was vociferous in explaining just how complex and dramatic a change the decision to ask intermediaries to act as copyright (and defamation, privacy, porn, extremism, security etc.) enforcers would be. In fact, there were so many speakers using different definitions of the words 'freedom' and openness' (Alec Ross' version here) that moderator Kevin Werbach was moved to state that we are separated by a common language, and to conclude that multistakeholderism is like democracy, the least worst system to discuss Internet governance. ITAC must presumably have concluded that there was sufficient good stuff in the Communique to balance out the intermediary liability element.
Civil society had flagged this concern up in their informal part in the Seoul meeting three years ago, asking OECD countries to "defend freedom of expression and, in this context, oppose mandated filtering, censorship and criminalisation of content that is protected under international freedom of expression standards." So their formal opposition to ISPs as copyright police did not come out of the blue. There have been several CSISAC statements on their opposition to the communique, including CSISAC as a whole, Knowledge Economy International, European Digital Rights initiative, Electronic Frontier FoundationLa Quadrature and others. They make clear their view of the Internet as an information commons that is open to innovation - it's well worth taking 10 minutes to watch Lawrence Lessig's eG8 presentation which puts the case well.
The context is also important - the communique was agreed by the Egyptian delegation on behalf of the new 'post-revolutionary' government that was doing this in Tahrir Square concurrently. Misunderstandings of the proposed informal private censorship model by non-OECD members are possible, to put it mildly. The US, for whom Danny Weitzner spoke eloquently and sincerely, pledged that the OECD and member states must do much more to explain to non-members - such as Egypt? - that the Principles do not permit the types of censorship that civil society illustrated. To take an example closer to home, British Telecom is being sued to block access to the NewsBin2 website, dealing with exactly that liability principle and mission creep to which CSISAC so vociferously objects. It's worth remembering the copyright industry's record in Internet innovation and growth (the conference's title) - this was the day that MySpace is sold by News Corporation for $35m. Yes, that site, that Murdoch $500m purchase in July 2005.
The future view of governments appears to be that a form of co-regulation will arrive, whether formally agreed with appropriate judicial appeal available to injured parties (as laid out in the 2008 Seoul conclusions), or as a murkier less well regulated quicker-fix political compromise (or quid pro quo with copyright lobbyists and others). Commissioner Kroes signaled a move towards a 'compact' in the direction of civic responsiblity, which suggests that there is now a 'direction of travel', if not yet a concerted push (she quotes Seneca), for more ISP activity, even if she says "it is not about regulating the Internet".
P.S. Just to prove that some ideas can be left out of the Communique because of fundamental disagreements between member states as well as other participants: the meeting produced a request from South Korea to convene a forum to discuss net neutrality going forwards. This issue divided participants, with the new Netherlands law discussed, Tim Berners Lee making a passionate defence of net neutrality and Internet access as a human right (web stream was available here, hopefully archived, TimBL very passionate), and Ed Vaizey's equally clear rejection of more than net neutrality lite, and self-regulation even for that, though also in a variety of other areas, legal and otherwise. There were also gibberish attempted scare tactics from incumbents and their suppliers about a mythical 'data explosion' which does not exist.


  1. Hurrah, what a quality it is! Since mostly YouTube video tutorials have no pleasant feature, but this is in fact a fastidious quality video.
    Elo Boosting

  2. Your method of explaining the whole thing in this post is in fact pleasant, every one be capable of effortlessly be aware of it, Thanks a lot.

    Dating for disabled