Monday, June 25, 2012

Perils Facing Open Access to the Internet


Visualization of Internet Traffic

While I tend to focus most of the blog’s content on freethinker issues and evolution, the mandate I set for the site also includes review and updates concerning information technology and the information society.  Last week, the Associated Press (AP) posted an article entitled, “A Battle for Internet Freedom as UN Meeting Nears.”  The crux of the article focuses on how very private and very high-level negotiations are to be conducted which could add or detract wording to international treaties which impact an individual’s right to access, communicate and create content on the web.

Conversely, this would give any nation the right, when it believes it is being threatened, to suppress dissent and negate the right to use the web freely for the purpose of sharing information.  The negotiations are part of the World Conference on International Telecommunications.  

Our Galaxy
While many UN representative nations have vowed to block other members from adding language which would change the governance of the Internet or allow individuals nations to create and insert wording which would permit censorship, current negotiations appear to be in a bit of diplomatic disarray.

Can you imagine an “Arab Spring” without the Internet?  Or the countless use of social media to assist activists in sharing information, creating opportunities to share ideas, or create flash mobs or other protests to enliven debate and discovery?  It is scary to think that the Internet as we know it could, if we are not vigilant, be changed in small and big ways which would inhibit an individual’s free and open access to web-based information.  Needless to say, there are countries now which inhibit or censor access, Communist (and former communist nations), non-democratic states and countries that use religious law to surpress civil and human rights are high on the list of these violators.  

The article sites the following:

“Russia, for example, has proposed language that requires member states to ensure the public has unrestricted access and use of international telecommunication services, except in cases where international telecommunication services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature.” 

Such an amendment would allow for the immediate repression and suppression of not only access and use of to the internet as a social change agent, but it would also make it a crime to use the Web to share any information deemed by a state to endanger the status quo of any nation.  This means that state violence could continue, economic and social disparity could be enforced, and most importantly the human and civil right to think and speak one’s mind would be in danger. 

The UN body which oversees the negotiations works on a consensus basis. So it does not allow any one nation to have veto power over other counties or final say regarding the process of creating, debating, discarding or ratifying changes to the ITC charter. Unlike the UN Security Council, this body must work together to approve any and all changes to the international telecommunications document.

While the meeting and resulting discussions remain private, academic and civil rights organizations have asked for greater transparency in the process for updating the charter, although these requests are really not being honored. In addition, other groups who are charged with managing the web remain active and robust. So the Internet Society, ICANN, and WWC, are and remain the three big players in implementing web change, discovery and innovation.

The Internet must remain an open and free modality to share and compare ideas, develop commerce, enliven scholarship and education and serve as a platform to communicate and express the global mindset and values of a world population of billions of people in search of connecting to one another.  Never before in human civilization have there been both a need for and the opportunity to create a worldwide conversation of humanistic goals and objectives which liberate the spirit and enhance the values and choice of each and every citizen.

If nothing else, be aware and informed that changes to the Web can impact you in small and big ways which can be immediate, long-term and everlasting. Finally, remember each an every citizen of the planet is covered by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Article expressly affords everyone the right to access information via any media.

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