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[liberationtech] Blogpost: "Internet Freedom" and Post-Snowden Global Internet Governance

michael gurstein gurstein at
Tue Sep 24 16:03:30 PDT 2013

With links

 "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

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 infrastructure.

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 WCIT).

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 interests.

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 constitution.

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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