For John, BLUF: There are those who would limit and control the Internet, and its child, the Blogosphere, but it would be bad for Democracy. Nothing to see here; just move along.
Saturday evening I had a short discussion with a friend over the Blogosphere. He was of the opinion that the Blogosphere needed to be controlled in some way. Yesterday on Lowell's local access TV show, City Life, City Councilor Bill Martin compared Blogs unfavorably with the newspapers. His point was that there is all that anonymity on the Blogs, but not in the newspapers. This AM, on City Life, Host George Anthes brought up to his guests the question of Regina Faticanti and Lynne Lupien and Tim Cahill and the criminalization of political speech. As a result, Deb Forgione called in and brought up the fact that there is a difference between those threats that are life threatening ("should be hung") and those that are physical language ("break the arms we need to break").
Regarding the Councilor Martin suggestion that anonymity is a problem on the Blogs, but not with newspapers, it misses the whole point that politicians and bureaucrats are leaking information, "on background", to newspapers all the time. An example of non-attribution that obscures part of the story is the fact that "Deep Throat" in the Watergate Scandal was a disgruntled office seeker, unhappy with the President for passing him over for Director of the FBI. I believe that newspapers are no more clean and pure than the Blogs. The distinction is that the Blogs are new and they exist in large numbers. Further, with the Blogs there are a larger number of viewpoints.
As for Deb Forgione's point, I wonder, from the hearer's point of view, if it is a distinction without a difference. Once someone feels physically threatened the perceived pain exists. I would suggest that if we graphed it out, the line would rise quickly and then pretty much flatten out, starting with the suggestion that "I will slap you" to "slap you silly" to "punch you" to "break your arm" to "have your head on a platter" to "kill you".
As a believer in American Constitutional principles I am concerned about moves that would limit Free Speech. Yes, I do believe in being polite and respectful, but not everyone is as finicky as I am. But, if we lose our right to Free Speech it is over for us as a Democracy.
At this time representatives of 193 countries are meeting in Dubai to discuss the Internet and what, if any, controls individual nations and international agencies should have over it. I worry about such talks, as there are nations that would like to control or throttle the Internet in the interest of stability.
Fortunately, our Ambassador to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), Terry Kramer, understands the importance of keeping the Internet free and growing. As this BBC article notes, "the US has said some of the proposals being put forward by other countries are 'alarming'." Per Ambassador Kramer:
There have been proposals that have suggested that the ITU should enter the internet governance business.To go "on background", here is an overview of the current state of play in the negotiations, provided by an unnamed Professor with experience in National Security Law:
There have been active recommendations that there be an invasive approach of governments in managing the internet, in managing the content that goes via the internet, what people are looking at, what they're saying.
These fundamentally violate everything that we believe in in terms of democracy and opportunities for individuals, and we're going to vigorously oppose any proposals of that nature.
There are several competing national agendas at play in the Dubai talks, as follows:"Eternal Vigilance is the price of Liberty", per our third President, Thomas Jefferson. That vigilance is facilitated by a free and open Internet.
My recommendation would be to avoid confusing proposals with laws, let alone rhetoric with capability. The United States and others are participating openly and politely because this treaty needs some updating. But prior intergovernmental restraints on content are going to be a show stopper for Uncle Sam & Co. on legal, policy, economic, strategic, and even human rights grounds. And that would be the same regardless of which party holds the White House.
- Russia and China want to place the Internet under intergovernmental (i.e., UN) control with prior restrictions on access and use. They are supported by other regimes with a similar domestic interest in controlling Internet content and traffic. They are supported by the usual gallery of rogues. This particular proposal will make a lot of noise in the blogosphere, but its essentially dead on arrival (see point 4 below).
- Some European nations (and to a lesser extent Latin American ones) want to be able to charge fees on certain kinds of connectivity in order to underwrite the cost of running Internet infrastructure, much as they once did (and in some cases still do) with international telephone service. This proposal is up for debate, but there's also a lot of concern in the United States, Asia, and many European countries about killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
- Developing nations—especially in Africa—are interested in using the treaty to find ways of financing and improving their own internet connectivity. They are essentially the swing votes in talks on the other two issues: my sense is they'll accept language that doesn't necessarily thrill them if the treaty helps bootstrap their efforts to get more people and institutions online.
- The United States and a host of other high-tech or high Internet-usage countries (including many in Northern Europe and the Anglosphere) are dead set on any sort of intergovernmental regulation (see point 1 above) that would place prior intergovernmental restrictions on Internet content and traffic. Their view is that the Internet should be run as it is now: by non-governmental networks with national law setting local standards of usage.
George Anthes is right to be concerned about the criminalization of political speech and we should all be concerned about efforts to control the blogosphere and the internet.
Regards — Cliff