Moderator: Ben Wagner, European University Institute.
Panelists: Cynthia Wong, Senior Researcher on Internet & Human Rights, Human Rights Watch; Lucy Purdon, ICT Researcher, Institute for Human Rights and Business; Hafiz Rahman Khan, Specialist Head of Unit, Grameenphone Limited; Colin Crowell, Vice President, Global Public Policy, Twitter; Ihab Osman, CEO, Sudatel Telecom Group.
Sovereign states should have not the right to regulate what citizens from other sovereign states can or cannot do on the Internet. It is a matter of sovereignty.
It is interesting to note that the problem from some Western countries may not be the problem of the whole world. For instance, in West Africa, child pornography is surely not the main security problem, but IP monitoring, content surveillance, etc.
For companies that operate worldwide, it is very difficult to know what is the exact issue that is more relevant in a given country. Or indeed, it may be not that difficult, but putting it in context of the whole company strategy and line of action, that may be the most difficult part.
On the other hand, what is “bad” in one country or under a specific culture may not be “bad” in another one.
The problem is not that there are good and bad things, but trying to deal with them in a centralized way. That is filtering. “Filtering” should be brought closer to the citizen, so that this citizen can have their say on what is “good filtering” and what is “bad filtering”.
A thing that Twitter does is not only withholding messages, but making it public that a message has been withheld, also sending a notice to the sender. On the other hand, both Twitter and Google perform transparency exercises where they publish who asked for content removal and why (e.g. under which specific Law).
An issue that has not been raised is what happens when the government controls the telecommunications industry (e.g. the government of Sudan has 21% of the shared of Sudatel Telecom — Ihab Osman argues that the company is independent and that only 2 out of 12 board members come from the government). In any case, sometimes have to follow the law, besides the fact that they are or are not owned by the government.
Sometimes companies take positions — Libya, Egypt — depending on the context: but what is that context? could this be generalized?
Telecoms benefit from traffic, for making data flow. So, there usually is a strong pushback against regulators from telecommunications companies.
Security is now much better than five years ago. The more people use social networking sites, the more they press for them to be open, to act legally, to regard human rights. The more people use social networking sites the more money is to be made, the more important is the medium, and the more money is put for it to work properly, including respecting human rights.
Telecoms have to follow the law, but many times the Law is full of blacks and whites and shades of gray.