UN forum: Snowden, Asia and the web
MANILA, Philippines – “You can’t have 100% security and then also have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
It’s been 4 months since US President Barack Obama first commented on Edward Snowden’s leaks but the revelations on US spying remain a hot topic of global debate. Privacy and control of the Internet in the age of mass surveillance is a key point of discussion in the United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum (IGF) this week.
An annual forum on policy issues related to the Internet, the 8th IGF will be held in Bali, Indonesia from October 22 to 25. It is the leading global forum on Internet governance, meaning the development and application of principles, rules and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
Established in 2006, the IGF brings together 1,500 delegates including governments, international organizations, business leaders, tech geeks, civil society, academe and netizens to discuss the future of the Internet. While talks are non-binding, the IGF said its role is to set the agenda by identifying key issues on Internet policy.
As in previous years, the theme for 2013 – “Building Bridges: Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development” – highlights the role of the web for development. Yet Snowden and state surveillance give this year’s forum a unique twist.
What does the forum mean for ordinary netizens and what can you look forward to? Here are 5 things you need to know about this year’s IGF:
1. It’s held amid efforts to move away from a “US-centric Internet.”
The IGF comes at a time when the Snowden leaks fuel attempts to shift control of the Internet’s infrastructure away from the US.
TIME Magazine reports that countries like Brazil want to create walled-off, national Intranet following reports that the US spied on its president and the government oil company, Petrobras.
This month, 10 groups including the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) came out with a statement calling for the “globalization” of Internet domain name functions performed by ICANN. They expressed “strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance.”
Sascha Meinrath, director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, said efforts to “fracture” or “Balkanize” the Internet will produce complex legal requirements for netizens and undermine Internet freedom.
“The global backlash is only beginning and will get far more severe in coming months. This notion of national privacy sovereignty is going to be an increasingly salient issue around the globe,” Meinrath told the Associated Press.
ICANN board member Chris Disspain called for a multi-stakeholder approach rather than centralized control by governments. He said, “We need people to actively join the global effort to ensure the Internet remains open and interoperable. We need to coalesce to promote the concept that decisions about Internet governance must be made within the multi-stakeholder model.”
2. There are different activities for different folks.
Beyond geopolitics and economics, the IGF has sessions, workshops and meetings for a wide range of sectors and the average Internet user.
Workshop tackle topics like the power of the Internet for disaster and environment control, Internet copyright policy, open government data initiatives, online anonymity, big data, social good and privacy, protecting journalists and bloggers, and gender and Internet governance. See the full list of topics here.
The delegates include representatives from Google, Facebook, eBay, the World Bank, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Childnet, and Committee to Protect Journalists.
For the first time, the IGF will also host a session on human rights to affirm the link between freedom of expression and the free flow of information online and the Internet as a global policy issue.
3. It’s the first IGF in Southeast Asia.
The Bali IGF is the first for Southeast Asia. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), one of the participating groups, said the forum will highlight the region’s role in the future of the Internet.
“Home to more than half the global population, Asia contains some of the world’s most advanced Internet markets where smartphones are fast overtaking PCs (personal computers) as the device of choice for online access,” the ICC said.
“At the same time, stakeholders attending the IGF understand the urgent need to create more robust policy approaches to help break down the digital divide in Asia and globally and to extend the advantages of the Internet to more people in the region, including frameworks for greater Internet penetration and improved broadband speeds,” it added.
Southeast Asia is also touted to have some of the highest online engagement rates in the world, with host Indonesia called one of the most “Twitter and Facebook-friendly nations on Earth.”
Yet civil society delegates to the 2012 Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum noted the growing number of polices in the region that threaten free speech online. Vietnam, for instance, is notorious for repression and jailing bloggers.
4. It takes place as Internet freedom declines globally.
Ahead of the IGF, US-based Freedom House released a report painting a grim picture of Internet freedom worldwide. It is the third consecutive year Internet freedom dropped because of surveillance, new laws controlling web content and growing arrests of social media users.
“Governments are increasingly looking at who is saying what online, and finding ways to punish them,” said Sanja Kelly, project director of the Freedom on the Net report.
One example Kelly cited is a woman arrested in India for posting a comment on Facebook where she complained about service disruptions in her town due to the funeral of a political dignitary. Her friend who “liked” the post was also arrested.
The report though also credited activists for successfully blocking repressive laws like the netizens who overturned the Cybercrime Prevention Act in the Philippines. (READ: Cybercrime law mars PH net freedom –report)
5. Filipinos are also participating in the IGF.
Several Filipinos are taking part in the IGF as representatives of government and civil society. One is Nica Dumlao, program coordinator for Internet Rights at the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA). Dumlao is joining the IGF to share Philippine initiatives in democratizing ICT.
“FMA is also part of the steering committee of the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance that is pushing for the complete repeal of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 so we want to share our experience in terms of advocating against a repressive law with Internet Freedom as our banner campaign,” she told Rappler.
Blogger Juned Sonido is representing Democracy.net.ph, which is promoting the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom (MCPIF), a crowdsourced bill that aims to replace the anti-cybercrime law and establish a framework for ICT in the Philippines. He is interested in discussions on rights and responsibility, digital divide, and cyber-bullying and stalking.
What Internet issues are you most interested in? Let us know in the comments section below. – Rappler.com