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An independent commission to investigate the future of the internet; is there a point?

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An independent commission to investigate the future of the internet; is there a point?

Alex Helling's picture
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Joined: 13 Sep 2011
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The World Economic Forum wants to investigate the future of the internet. The idea of freedoms on the internet has been increasingly squeezed over the past year – non-democratic countries have been stepping up their monitoring of their citizens and their censorship, and even democratic ones such as Turkey and the UK have been starting to implement internet censorship or filtering. And this is before we get onto the new knowledge that the NSA, GCHQ and other intelligence agencies have been hovering up all of our data.

So what is the answer to this nibbling away at digital freedoms? Well for the WEF (often simply known by the place it meets at Davos) the answer is a two year inquiry. This will be led by Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, who will be heading up a panel 25 strong of politicians, academics, and former intelligence officials. On the panel will be; Joseph Nye, an IR professor known for his focus on soft power; Sir David Omand, who as a former head of GCHQ has consistently been defending government surveillance as in the national interest; Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security; Latha Reddy, former deputy national security adviser of India; and Marietje Schaake an MEP and free speech advocate. The inclusion of former security officials in the panel rather shows what at least some of the focus is going to be on; surveillance by those same intelligence agencies.

This is to be one of the two sides of the investigation. Bildt says that “revelations about the nature and extent of online surveillance have led to a loss of trust.” Though if the panel ends up as balanced towards the security state as those names mentioned in the Guardian then it is hard to see the commission coming up with anything helpful for freedom and privacy.

On the other area we might be more likely to get agreement as this is the “threat to a free, open and universal internet… from… a number of authoritarian states waging a campaign to exert greater state control over critical internet resources”. Since as yet there is no announced members of the panel representing these authoritarian states governments (unlike western intelligence!) then everyone is likely to agree that this is a bad thing. However such an agreement would also seem unlikely to result in anything, if there is no buy in from these authoritarian states can they really be expected to respond to whatever the report says.

The suspicion then has to be that such an exercise will not be worth much. This suspicion is fed by the two year length of the investigation. It might have the benefit of bringing internet freedom back into the headlines in two years’ time but it is likely to lose out in impact due to its lack of immediacy. If “Net freedom is as fundamental as freedom of information and freedom of speech in our societies.” Then of course it needs a considered response, but given the speed at which the internet changes it is quite possible that in two years’ time a lot will have changed.

Debatabase debate: ‘Should we fear the power of government over the internet?’ http://digitalfreedoms.idebate.org/debatabase/debates/acta/should-we-fear-power-government-over-internet

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/22/independent-commission-future-internet-nsa-revelations-davos

3 years 17 weeks ago
KateDebate's picture
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Joined: 27 Mar 2012
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It is necessary to have some kind of international response to come up with a kind of ideal for the internet. By this I mean an ideal in terms of what the balance should be not just an ideal in the sense of what would be best for internet freedom. This could be provided by such a commission that is both international and has representatives of those advocating freedom on the internet and those who see the dangers of the internet. None of the investigations being done in individual countries are likely to come out with such a broad view that it can be applied across the internet as they will clearly be looking for their own balance, or even worse just looking at their own interests.

3 years 17 weeks ago
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