The Internet Bill of Rights, the Internet Governance and the Cyberspace Independence

Just five years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium. Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.

Reporters Without Borders have published The list of 13 Internet enemies. The enemies are: Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam (alphabetical order), all of them press freedom predators at least; most of them, much worse than this.

On the other side of Europe, The Internet Governance Forum met in Athens last week and held a workshop to deal with the creation of an “Internet Bill of Rights” to articulate the global rights and duties of Internet users from the viewpoint of the individual. While the idea has resonated in lots of newspapers, blogs and mailing lists, this is, so far, what we’ve got:

IGF Community Site Wiki: The Internet Bill of Rights page
IGF Community Site Wiki: The Internet Bill of Rights page

No pun intended. I really do not want to sound sarcastic, but just to show what we’ve got so far — including, for instance, the really good but not “widely officially” accepted Internet Rights Charter proposed by the Association for Progressive Communications. I really believe the statement I quoted on top of the article is more than likely to happen, and not only in totalitarian states but also in those states so self-called “democracy promoters”. More than ten years after, the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace is more than up-to-date. While there surely is a place — and a need! — for an Internet Bill of Rights, a minimums approach is a “hands off” approach.

Some days ago, Paco Lupiáñez pointed me to Introna and Nassenbaum Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matters, where they write about the danger of letting the market freely shape the way search engines work, and how this can end in a biased World Wide Web perception, favouring the strong and silencing the minorities — even if search engines were driven by “neutral” technology.

So, on one hand we have the problem of Internet Governance and Internet freedom of access/use in general: there’s a strong need to control the controlers… so no control is exerted at all. On the other hand, some control must be set so there are no biases or exclusion risks. The Internet Governance Forum works top down, while Reporters Without Borders or the Electronic Frontier Foundation work bottom up. And the question is: will ends meet?

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2006) “The Internet Bill of Rights, the Internet Governance and the Cyberspace Independence” In ICTlogy, #38, November 2006. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=478

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3 Comments to “The Internet Bill of Rights, the Internet Governance and the Cyberspace Independence” »

  1. Should IP addresses assigned to The IANA hack your computer?

    The IANA’s RFC 3171 reserved block of addresses are used by sources that are known to The IANA, but not to victims hacked from those addresses.

    If hacked by the IPV-4 addresses, you will be able to do a “whois” search but that will only lead you to The IANA who will tell you nothing but the address is in a special pool – not under the direct control of The IANA.

    Today, there is a huge government thirst for private information. If you make comments that are political in nature, you may receive a port visit from an address in that pool.

    And in my case, those attacks stood out “like a sore thumb”. While the average hack is against two to four ports, these attempts were against nine, twelve, or thirteen ports.

    Internet governance should try to get the Internet managers to remove “secret” IP address from hacking computers of those on the Internet.

  2. I think you are structuring the post in a way that is highly skeptical of the feasibility and through that instrumentalist perspective you leave very little room for the appreciation of the NEED and USEFULNESS of the internet bill of rights (IBR) effort.

    I agree that anarchy is better than bad governance. Unfortunately the historic anarchy that characterized the emergence of cyberspace – and that is held up as a positive option for governance by many ‘cyber-traditionalists’ – is not an option anymore. These days the economic and increasingly governmental forces (though mainly as instruments of economic interests) are imposing their ‘privatization & taming of cyberspace’ agendas. Hands off only means that the top-down negotiations (as you call them) happen without the vision of a netizens’ cyberspace.

    And even though I agree that there is a grass-roots movement (EFF, RWB, etc.) I do not agree that the IGF “works top down”. The IGF is a very promising new breed of international politics, a multi-stakeholder platform where the ideal of an habermasian discourse is at least present.

    On the point of the fundamental necessity for an Internet Bill of Rights i would like to point you to the contribution of David Casacuberta and myself to the mentioned IGF workshop –> http://www.uno-komitee.de/en/documents/igf_oct2006.pdf as well as the position paper we developed at the Committee for a Democratic United Nations http://www.uno-komitee.de/en/documents/internetgovernance.pdf

  3. Hi Max,

    I’m sorry you read my post this way, but your interpretation is by far not what I intended.

    I actually began the post quoting Reporters Without Borders, i.e. there’s an urgent need to regulate the citizenship rights in the Information Society to avoid rights abuse.

    The problem is that both digital rights and Internet Governance are very complex issues, that require a lot of time. In the meanwhile, the cyberspace is a jungle.

    Thus, I wonder if we could set, somehow, not a maximums policy, but sort of a ladder of digital rights achieving, beginning with J.P. Barlow’s “hands off” approach. So, I’m not aiming for anarchy — not in my wildest dreams — but, at least, at a first stage, aiming for a governmental non-intervention in cyberspace issues.

    To end: when I speak of “top-down” or “bottom-up” I did not mean “government-to-citizens” or “grassroots-to-State”, but the degree or ambition of the proposals: IGF pretends to be comprehensive, total, and then go to the details. But maybe some bit by bit praxis issues setup, and then do abstraction from these issues to generalize would be a good complementary idea.

    That was it :)

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