The true enemies of Internet freedom are those who invest energy in blaming the US, China or Russia

In a recent article for the Guardian Evgeny Morozov is tripping around the questions whether the US or China and Russia are the greater danger for Internet freedom. Being only an artifical discussion, the more important debate should be how to secure Interent freedom independet from these actors.

Russia takes general a strong grip on their whole media, including the Internet, not just for reasons of internal affairs. Being pushed back by the US after the end of the cold war, they are working closely together with other BRIC states in opposing the US.

The fact that China is heavily restricting and filtering the Internet is nothing new. New is not even the struggles between the US and China in the tech area. The US is accusing China of embedding espionage parts in microchips and other products manufactured China. China just recently banned Windows 8 from all government computers for the same reason. Quite some reasons to work together with other emerging states like Brazil or Russia.

Finally, the US is trying to keep their domination on the Internet related structures and core services. Initatives like giving IANA more autonomy by stepping back from their “special” role are only drops in the bucket.

These are few of the reasons why the current international policy processes in the field of Internet Governance are stuck. Steps ahead were mainly made in more detailed modeling of the multi-stakeholder processes, not the topics itself. This is not just true for UN related processes like th IGF, but also for new initatives like NETmundial. Being organized at the first place in Brazil it was meant to discuss the topic of global surveillance in the context of the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden. At the end it was diluted by US interference and had even a weaker final statement than  the previous anti-spying resolution at the UN.

All of this is unfortunatea and even sad for the sake of Internet freedom. Waiting for a quick solution in the near future is an illusion which only damages the cause. The defence of Internet freedom and rights are up to other countries working hand in hand with civil society. Looking at state like Iceland, Switzerland or Estonia who claim some credibilty in that field, seem a good start to go. Having a core group of countries securing Internet freedom others will join and every addional will create more pressure on the US, China and Russia.

How does the future of Internet Governance look like?

This year was quite important for the field of Internet Governance. Next to the establieshed Internet Governance Forum (IGF) by the UN and the European Dialog on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) there was another place called NETmundial in Brazil.

The NETmundial was initatied by Dilma Rousseff, the brazilian president, after the reveilling by Edwards Snowden of her surveillance by the NSA. Being outraged at the beginning the hopes were high to have finally a forum to discuss THE topic: global surveillance by secret services. After half a year on the NSA leaks, it was time to adress it. The past month also showed that this is only possible in an surounding not dominated by the US. They seem to have severe problems in learning from it. Having this in mind, it was surprising, or perhaps not, that the focus shifted during the development of the event and surounding policy process. Additional topics were set, as the future development of ICANN and others. Sadly not even Civil Society was united on this issue. And again, the original topic of surveillance was diluted by a too strong focus on processes. The question is: how much worth are talking about processes when there is not a glance of proceeding on a topic. Especially in an approach which is independ from the UN. So, the topic which started NETmundial occured at the end as an subchapter in the final document. And this being not enough, the pararaphes on surveillance were even weaker than in existing UN resolutions.

Unfortunatly the same happend to EuroDIG in Berlin. In the preparation meetings before the topic shifted again more to Internet Governance as a process with too much focus on itself then the original talking points. Again there was a strong push from several actors to have surveillance  as a main topic. At this point the leaks from Edward Snowden had almost their first anniversary. Addional, there is a visible decrease in participation. Not surprising, when there is not really progress and everlasting discussions with the same people on the panels.

To conclude, the approach of Internet Governance as something which tries to be as inclusive as possible and as open as possible, is obviously stuck. The involvement of other stakeholders made some shifts, but the established actors still leading and setting the agenda.
This is quite sad, since there are many issues which would need attension. Filtering, censoring and hard interventions in the core technologies are currently done. Not just by known countries as Iran or China, but also by coutries which call themselves democratic honoring civil and human rights. There is data retention in many countries like Germany. There is deep packet inspections  done by private companies. There are severe attacks on privacy supporting technologies like Tor. If there ever was a “freedom of the Internet” it’s gone or in the most optimistic case, almost gone. The stituation is clear. So where to start now?

A look in other policy fields can give new ideas and best practices for new approaches. There are other global issues where the traditional policy processes are stuck due to a small group of countries dominating it. The best example is the topic of Nuclear disammament. Due to the NPT only five countries are allowed to have them and so they are only talking with themselves about it. Even so the use or even an excident would affect many others. But there are already positive examples in the field of disammament of weapons of massdistruction. The most recent one is the ban treaty on cluster ammunition. Another very successful is the one on landmines. What have they in common? First of all they focused not on a technical or even security level. They looked at the humanitarian level, meaning which impact has it on humans itselve. After concluding that the danger for the human race alone justifies a global ban on it. Leaving out any other disucusion on security, military or politcal benefits of such weapons. The second important step was to establish a small “core group” of countries who have a similar progressive position towards this topic. They can push it, hosting state conference on the topic itself and after some time start negotions for an international treaty. Even if such a treaty is done by a small group of five to six countries, it can have a large impact since other countries can – one by one – join this treaty.

So, why is there no core group of countries which set an example with an international treaty others can join. Where are Switzerland, Iceland or Brazil to start negations for such a “freedom of the Internet treaty”? Brazil already adopted the Marco Civil, a Fundamental Rights Charter for the Internet. It it time to bring this into an international treaty, having a group of countries negotiating and signing it as initiators. Then they can collect others co-signing it. Naming, shaming and putting pressure on others who don’t do it. It is time now to start such a process and not running after the fairy tale of Internet Governance as the universal remedy.

Youth participation in internet governance – a european perspective

This post was first published at Comunicação e Política.

In a couple of weeks the NETMundial meeting is taking place in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This high­level meeting, intended to change the direction of the global governance of the Internet, might also change the roles of some supranational actors in this process. Even though some might say its a good counterbalancing alternative to US dominance in the field of Internet Governance, there are still stakeholders that are under­represented, young people being principal among them.

It might seem that young people are taking an active part in Internet Governance, yet conferences and meetings like ICANN, IGF, EuroDIG, and as far as can be seen NETMundial, paint a different picture. In 2011 at IGF in Nairobi it was clearly stated that young people don’t see the Internet as an anarchic playground, but expect their voice to be heard. Current governance models, however, tend to exclude young people completely from actively engaging with the topic.

One of the reasons for that is because the field of IG is complex and interconnected, and usually discussed at the international level. The topic is so profound and multilevel, that to be able to interact and participate one already needs to have a high level of knowledge, and preferably be already well known in the field. Debates are often highly technical or jurisdictional and difficult to follow, hence it is hard to participate. In addition it is difficult to be accepted by civil society groups when you are a young professional trying to find your own standpoint in this complex debate. This often leaves young people wandering around frustrated in the crowd of old white men at these conferences, not knowing how to get involved. All of the above create a high entry barrier for young newcomers.

This partly leads to the second reason: often IG means a small closed community with no official framework to allow participation. There is no institutionalized frame, which makes it difficult to get involved. Being open and transparent does not mean being inclusive or participatory.

In Europe the most common pattern to get politically active is through joining political youth organisations and forums. Sadly, there are hardly any youth organisations on the local or national level that deal with IG issues.So in case of social or political issues like sex education or youth unemployment, to access and deal with it would be common through local or national youth organisations, but that is not the case when it comes to digital rights or questions of governing the Internet. European youth organisations that are seriously working on the problems of digital rights and Internet Governance are mostly international.

Another problem, at least in Europe, is the Internet Governance bubble itself. In theory, there is a way for young people to participate in the dialogue through a multi stakeholder model. The situation is starting to change; there are now a few opportunities for the young generation to learn and participate, such as random internships or the annual EuroSSIG Summer School in Meissen, Germany for example. This might be a good way to start exploring the topic. However, in reality there is a lack of resources, notably skills and expertise.

The cornerstone of the problem is civil society itself. Civil society organisations have an important role to play in regard to giving access to a specific policy field by providing resources and expertise for beginners. Organisations active in this field are gathering a lot of expertise but they are also very closed in comparison with other fields. Well established youth organisations are not dealing with IG topics at all and there are very few attempts by new organizations to do so. Political bodies like the European Youth Forum, are explicitly trying to stop attempts to work in this field, as they view it as something unimportant.

Altogether ­ the high entry barriers, no institutionalized access and a civil society that is not incentivizing youth organisations ­ make it very hard for young people to participate in the IG processes even though they are able to contribute with their experience and provide a valid point of view.

Anna Orlova and Silvio Heinze

Current debates: privacy, big data, net neutrality and copyright issues

From October 22nd to 25th, 2013, the 8th annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum took place in Bali. These are the three big topics – from my perspective – for the next year.

This article was written for NO LABEL PROJECT.

Privacy and big data 

The adoption of the new EU data protection regulation by the LIBE committee showed that the discussions about privacy are not dead yet. It seems only that the discussion is different than many civil rights organisation expected. The past weeks have revealed that even a world wide scandal about enormous data misuse by governmental organizations do not concern enough people to become relevant. They are outraged, but this result not in any action – known as the privacy paradox. In the contrary, studies show that privacy is nothing people would pay for nor care much. If they have the choice between cheaper prices and handing in less private data in online shops, there is a preference towards the cheaper prices.

We can all agree on, that a new narrative is necessary to explain why data collections of personal data is a treat. The term of private sphere seems not strong nor important enough to mobilize proper amount of people. Fights against the transparent citizen are long over. As Edward Snowden revealed, most of us are already fully transparent. I am favoring the term of the mindless citizen, since that is what these databases of our personal information do with us together with advanced computing. Big Data are the technologies to predict our actions before we know it ourselves. We are getting personalized offers which we can’t resist since they fit so perfectly to our needs.

Having this in mind, a political solution seems urgent and needed at once. The data protection legislation – not only in Europe – is lagging very much behind the technical progress.


Infrastructure: net neutrality and nationalization

Last month the European Commission proposed a new draft for a Digital Single Market regulationincluding regulation for telecommunication infrastructure. In mid October was a decision that the ITRE committee (Industry and Trade) will responsible and who are the rapporteurs. It is more or less official that this initiative won’t be finished during this term. The rapporteur Castillio Vera and the shadow rapporteur Trautman estimate an opinion-forming in the next 7 months. So this might be one of the topics of the elections to the European Parliament. What ever will be the result will be on e of the starting points of the European Commission after the elections.

It is not a new topic. The struggle around net neutrality was ongoing during the whole term of Neele Kroes. EDRi made a good overview on the debate by creating a timeline.

Another infrastructure topic is the growing nationalization of the Internet. This is not just a phenomena of closed autocracies like Iran or North Korea. The trend of national nets also gather speed in Europe. National restrictions on services are well known already like in Youtube or other media, where the copyright legislation is lacking behind the habits of consumers and users. In Germany now discussions started to route special services only in “Ferman” nets for example e-mail.


Copyright vs freedom of expression

In the beginning of this year the ECHR took a decision in the on going debate on copyright vs freedom of expression and denying The Piratebay the status of communication infrastructure worth to protect. It is in particular for interest, since the well known website is nothing else than a simple search engine for links. Only some days ago the next torrent search engine isohunt got shutdown. On the other hand, the largest torrent search engine Google got untouched.

The media industry realised that going against individual copyright infringement is not working out. Public cases like charging teenagers or grandma’s with ridiculous claims of often wrong accusations will be hopefully over soon.

At the Internet Governance Forum 2012 in Baku the swedish member of European Parliament (MEP) Amelia Andersdotter explained with the direct words “Fuck you, this is my culture” that the gap between the reality of young people and restrictive copyright regulation is as big as never before.

This shows the importance of the current copyright debate for the Internet infrastructure. The general direction of more and more centralisation – which is ongoing for years – gets support by such developments. Creating monopols and power concentrations which are bad for general public and only benefiting a small minority. The next year will show in which direction it will go. Hopefully again towards more Internet freedom.