IGF2009: The Internet Governance Forum Blues
Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on November 16, 2009
This morning Michael Geist tweeted about BBC’s article “UN slated for stifling net debate”, detailing the incident causing the hue and cry which has sprung up about the censorship of the poster at the Internet Governance Forum in Egypt.
The poster was promotional material for the OpenNet Inititiative‘s academic book “Access Comtrolled” on display at the reception held by two of the book’s authors, Ron Deibert and Rafal Rohozinksi at the Internet Governance Forum in Egypt. Apparently “complaints” were made about “The first generation of Internet controls consisted largely of building firewalls at key Internet gateways; China’s famous ‘Great Firewall of China’ is one of the first national Internet filtering systems.”
The book is a global project from the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a collaboration of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the SecDev Group.
“1. We were told that the banner had to be removed because of the reference to China. This was repeated on several occasions, in front of about two dozen witnesses and officials, including the UN Special Rapporteur For Human Rights, who asked that I send in a formal letter of complaint.
2. Earlier, the same officials asked us to stop circulating a small invite to the event because it contained a mention of Tibet. They even underlined it in showing it to me. Because the event was just about to start, we said that we would not be distributing any more of these invitations so it was a moot point.
3. We asked repeatedly to see any rules or regulations governing this act. They did not give us any, only referring to the “objections of a member state.”
4. There were in fact many posters and banners in many of the rooms that I attended, including others in our own. The video itself shows us, at one point, taking one of the other posters we have and offering to cover up the original one. They objected to that and told us this banner must be removed.
On another matter of clarification:
The UN officials did not throw the banner on the ground. They asked us to remove it and one of our staff placed it on the ground for us to consider what to do. That’s where we had the discussion. When we refused to remove it, their security guards bundled it up and took it away.
Hope this helps to clarify.
–Ron Deibert’s account of the incident, posted in boingboing comments
My favorite was this comment from Cory Doctorow’s boingboing page:
Antinous / Moderator | #9 | 15:10 on Sun, Nov.15
Why pick Egypt as the venue for a convention on internet governance? Was Mordor booked?
In a statement Reporters Without Borders said: “”It is astonishing that a government that is openly hostile to internet users is assigned the organization of an international meeting on the internet’s future.”
[Mordor’s reach was spreading toward the Shire, which was in fact why Frodo and Sam had to head off to fight it. Freedom is always worth fighting for.]
Although it would be breathtakingly easy to point to Egypt as a country where suppression of free speech is endemic, I have to wonder is Canada really any better? The eagerness Canada’s British Columbia government is showing in suppression of free speech in and around the upcoming Vancouver Olympics makes me think it really wouldn’t matter where the Internet Governance Forum was held.
The technological changes to the world brought about by the internet threatens those who forsee an erosion of their power to dominate others. The real problem for them is that the internet makes both supression of free speech and repression of civil liberties more difficult. It’s easier to do bad stuff out of the light of public scrutiny as shown by the flurry of video, articles and blogs about this incident.
This is precisely why net neutrality is so important.
It’s also why Usage Based Billing must not be implemented, since one of the worst things UBB will do to Canada is make the internet less affordable for most Canadian citizens, but even worse, unaffordable for many. Talk about disenfranchisement.