World Rallies to Save the Internet from G8
9:21am | 31 May 2011 | by Joseph Steele,
For the first time, the Internet and its determinant role in society and the global economy was explicitly discussed at this year’s G8 summit in Deauville, France. Immediately before this, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, holding the rotating G8 Presidency, convened a meeting – the so-called e-G8 forum – in Paris on 24-25 May.
Industry and innovation digerati, from Schmidt to Murdoch to Zuckerberg, were gathered in the Tuileries gardens, eager to discuss “the future of the internet”. But there was one essential component missing: us.
The invitee list, reflecting spectacularly sparse representation from the civil society, signalled to bloggers and citizen-users that our interests would likely not be defended. Access launched a campaign – G8: Protect the Net! -- together with over 40 civil rights groups and penned a letter to Sarkozy and the Group of 8, urging them to publicly commit to citizen-friendly policies such as expanding quality internet access for all, protecting individual privacy, combating digital censorship and surveillance and upholding principles of net neutrality. It also underlined our deep concerns regarding the lack of multistakeholderism at this landmark occasion to discuss internet governance.
By the end of the first day, Access’ campaign gained impetus as it became glaringly apparent to attendees that this forum was largely a platform for pushing Sarkozy’s vision of a “civilised” internet. The French president made an effort to show that he understood the digital revolution and made an appropriate nod to the important role played by ICT in the Arab Spring in his opening speech. However, as a supporter of the Draconian three strikes law – which forces ISPs to sever the internet connection of repeat copyright infringers – he made several not-so subtle pleas to protect intellectual property, forecasting chaos without governmental involvement in regulating the net.
Giving primacy to corporate interests, forcing intermediaries to police their customers, filter speech, fight terrorism, protect children online and punish copyright infringers is not the ‘future of the internet’. In fact, this approach risks destroying its innovating, democratizing and participatory characteristics.
Lawrence Lessig, in one of the few civil voices officially invited to the forum, called on participants to preserve its open architecture, explaining that the most groundbreaking innovations – Google, icq, skype, kazaa, youtube, and so on – were borne by kids, drop-outs and non-Americans. Aptly highlighting the flawed approach to the forum, he said “The future of the internet is not here. It wasn’t invited. It doesn’t even know how to be invited.”
Determined to adequately represent the interests of the non-invited, Access, together with spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net Jérémie Zimmerman, staged an ad-hoc counter-forum civil society press conference where the global statement and Access’ petition, signed by citizen-users from over 100 countries, would be presented.
The improvised press conference, dubbed #hackeg8 in the twittersphere and led by Zimmerman, featured a panel of net freedom experts – including Secretary-general of RSF Jean-François Julliard, former board member of ICANN Susan Crawford, Harvard scholars Lawrence Lessig and Jochai Benkler, and journalist Jeff Jarvis – who collectively expressed their disapproval of the lack of adequate representation as well as the direction of the discussions at the forum. “The free Internet must be defended before thought is given to regulating content,” said Julliard, “The priority for G8 governments should be defending the Internet.”
Our perspective was well received by the media. There were stories in Numerama, ZDNet.fr, The Inquirer, Radar O’Reilley,Free News, RSF.org and the Wall Street Journal. And media interest spiked when the New York Times reported that the final declaration, meant to be issued at the end of the talks in Deauville, had been drafted one day before this “forum” was even finished.
Ultimately, the final communiqué did make explicit reference to many of the demands set out in our petition. Specifically, for the G8 to publicly commit to broadening quality access to ICT, recognizing that internet access is vital to the flourishing of human rights in the 21st century and ensuring the protection of individual privacy online.
On the other hand, the communiqué remained much in line with the tone set by the e-G8. While it does include favourable language relating to the protection of human rights online, any commitment to upholding principles of net neutrality or the dangers of censorship by ISPs and governments is almost completely absent from the document.
There remains strong emphasis on developing ‘improved’ methods of intellectual property enforcement in the digital environment. The most detailed point about the internet, section 15, concerns intellectual property and is conveyed in wording similar to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Reporters without Borders have remarked that it “…seems to justify allowing internet filtering by privately-owned companies and stripping illegal downloaders of their internet connection. It bears the imprint of the Elysée Palace’s most influential lobbyists”.
Additionally, as indicated by human rights NGO Article 19, the protections to the right to freedom of expression are below the standards established in international human rights law, particularly section 11, which makes reference to ‘arbitrary or indiscriminate’ censorship, which does nothing to address the types of censorship currently being employed by countries such as Iran and China.
Now the hard work begins! We must use the powerful rights language that is contained in the communiqué to advance the global campaign to ensure governments actively combat online censorship and recognize access to the internet as a fundamental right. Our collective voices must continue to be heard over these coming months as major international decision making forums are considering the future of the internet including the Human Rights Council this week and the OECD later this month.
Civil Society Statement to the e-G8 and G8
G8 Declaration - Summit of Deauville - May 26-27, 2011
G8-The Deauville Declaration on Internet Fails to Recognise Importance of Human Rights Including Freedom of Expression (28.05.2011)
eG8 Forum: Speeches by Jérémie Zimmermann & John Perry Barlow (partially only in French, 24-25.05.2011)
The Counter-forum Civil Society Press Conference, May 25 @ e-G8
Civil Society Petition - G8: Protect the net!
Access Blog: World Rallies to Save the Internet from G8