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<nettime> "Internet Freedom" and Post-Snowden Global Internet Governance
michael gurstein on Wed, 25 Sep 2013 09:24:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> "Internet Freedom" and Post-Snowden Global Internet Governance

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 "Internet Freedom" and Post-Snowden Global Internet Governance: Michael

The big story for the 2012 Internet Governance Forum in Baku was the
almost overwhelming (and overpowering) emphasis placed by the US
government delegation and its corporate allies (primarily Google)
and its associates in (primarily US based) Civil Society on what was
termed "Internet Freedom" and Multistakeholderism as its primary
governance modality.

The campaign was very well orchestrated and coordinated (through the
US delegation led by a US Ambassador and the head of the NTIA Lawrence
Strickling) who insisted that any "Internet governance" position which
included any form of "government involvement" would necessarily imply
or result in government's "takeover" or "control" of the Internet.
Further, it was vociferously asserted that any deviation from this
path was by definition an infringement of "Internet Freedom" and part
of a slippery slope leading to full-on government suppression of "free
speech" on the Internet.

Those who pointed out that there already was quite considerable
involvement of various governments in various aspects of Internet
management were effectively shouted down as being sympathizers with
the autocrats and enemies of "freedom" in such states as China,
Russia and Saudi Arabia. The overwhelming response was that Internet
"governance" was optimal as it was (or at least the corporate, (inter)
governmental, and technical mechanisms governing its evolution were
optimal); and that the only possible position for "lovers of the
Internet" was to support the existing status quo with respect to
Internet ("non") governance.

Precisely what might be meant by "Internet Freedom" apart from rather
fuzzy libertarian notions of keeping "the dead hand of government"
as far as possible from the Internet as a hub of innovation and
enterprise, was never made very clear beyond the level of slogan
and exhortation. Rather it was loudly proclaimed that any form of
formal governance of the Internet would be the greatest sin that
could be perpetrated against the Internet as a burgeoning global

In choosing among the various ways in which "Freedom" might be
characterized this lobbying steamroller made quite clear that they
were referring to Freedom "from"-government interference, government
oversight, government regulation of anything to do with the Internet.
And this theme and its ITU focused counterparts were equally evident
at the ITU policy meeting held in Dubai some few months later (the

When some few small voices suggested that this full court press in
support of "Freedom from" might also mean for example a freedom from
the means for countries, particularly Less Developed Countries to
introduce some form of taxation on the currently small but rapidly
growing flow of Internet based revenues from already impoverished
economies to already stupendously wealth private (and primarily
US based) Internet corporations; or that there might be something
wrong with the current way in which the basic "naming system" of the
Internet via ICANN might be structured (as a sub-contractor to the US
Department of Commerce); or that some issues such as privacy might
require mechanisms for policy development and global enforcement,
these comments were met with derision and howls that the authors of
such positions were secret sympathizers of communications censors
(ComSymps) of those on the other side of the emerging Internet cold
war - i.e. the Russia's, China's, Saudi Arabia's of the world.

But that was then and this is now and as startling revelation after
revelation tumbles from the thumb drives of Mr. Edward Snowden the
import if not the intent of (one hopes) certain of those Internet
Freedom warriors (speculating on precisely who knew what, when, and
how in this context makes for an interesting exercise) becomes clear.

While so loudly advocating for Freedom "from" (whatever.), the
Internet Freedom (IF) coalition was in fact, providing the diplomatic
cover and lobbying campaign to ensure that no outcome of Internet
governance would interfere with what would appear to be the overall
US strategy of Freedom "to" - surveille, subvert, suborn and overall
embed and maintain (as the NSA so aptly put it)-"total information
dominance" of the Internet and all of its various manifestations
now and presumably forever, in the service of US "security" and US

Such "security" it is clear from the Snowden documents means not only
security against terrorism but also it seems (as enabled by the NSA's
surveillance machine) security against potentially independent comment
(and ultimately action) by both opposing and allied states; against
fair competition since one side has access to all its information and
the information from the other side as well; and quite startlingly the
security of having the means to listen in on and ultimately control
independent action, comment, commerce, and thought itself not only
among "foreigners" (i.e. everyone else) but also even among those
(in theory) protected by that most oft cited of documents the US

That this "Freedom from" campaign has now been fully revealed for what
it was (providing the ideological justification for an on-going coup
d'etat against the republic of the Internet), leaves the matters of
Internet Governance (where this all started) completely up in the air.

But once having been revealed that we are no longer in Kansas and
that the wicked witches of the North, South, East and West will be
relentless in their pursuit of control including through the use of
their boundless financial and technical resources; a response of some
sort however reluctantly and with what trepidations seems to be in the
cards as per the recent speech to the UN General Assembly by President
Rousseff of Brazil.

And so we have the upcoming 8th session of the Internet Governance
Forum in Bali with many of the main protagonists having been more or
less completely discredited (it might be fun if the same coalition
were to try for another round of "Internet Freedom" confabulations but
one can't imagine that even those folks have been sufficiently well
trained to carry that one off with a straight face).

So, what will be discussed at the IGF apart from the usual empty
rhetoric about capacity building for LDC's and legitimate campaigns
against online skullduggery of the spam, kiddieporn, phishing variety.

Perhaps I could make a modest suggestion for the discussion. Perhaps
we could discuss "Internet Freedom" but Internet Freedom in a
post-Snowden world and without the hypocrisy and sanctimony of the
previous discussions.

Perhaps we could discuss Internet Freedom as Freedom from undue
and unaccountable surveillance. Internet Freedom as true Freedom
of Expression where the forces of repression whether in Langley or
in Moscow or Shanghai are made transparent and accountable; where
Internet Freedom is anchored in the rule of law-not the, shall we say,
rather "flexible" law of the world's single superpower but a rule
of law to which all are expected to adhere and where mechanisms are
in place to ensure that, to the degree possible, all are responsive
and accountable; where Internet Freedom is not just for some but
where it's responsibilities and most importantly its protections are
available for all of us - "foreigners" or no and where all have some
degree of input into how those laws are constructed and administered;
where Internet Freedom does not mean that actions on and through the
Internet will be subverted and directed simply to further enrich the
already obscenely enriched but rather to ensure that the benefits
including financial benefits accruing from the Internet serve to
reduce global inequalities.

I look for those who a year ago, were so eager to rally forces in
support of Internet Freedom to rally again to this somewhat battered
standard but now one that is rather less naive and rather more
reflective of the underlying reality of this technology enabled world
in which we live.

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