By Steven MacMillan/The Analyst Report: 13 June, 2014
January of this year marked the beginning of the new Global Commission on Internet Governance, which was launched by Chatham House in partnership with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) . The commission will be chaired by the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who will lead a team of 25 members tasked to study the future prospects of internet governance over the next 2 years. A benign, non-threatening looking man who has served on the Board of Trustees of the RAND Corporation, Bildt is the perfect character to be the face of a new initiative which could threaten the internet as we know it.
Last weekend, Bildt attended the Bilderberg conference in Copenhagen, where he rubbed shoulders with the former Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) Keith Alexander and the Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt. As the NSA and Google are two of the most nefarious organisations which have been caught violating millions of citizen’s rights online, alarm bells should be ringing that the chair of a new internet governance initiative should be meeting with such individuals at a quasi-secret conference. Bildt is a deeply entrenched individual in the shadow world empire, who also belongs to the European elitist think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations – which is the European branch of Chatham House.
There is no doubt there are negatives to the internet – the rise in smart phone and iPad addiction, reduced social skills in young people, mass surveillance by intelligence agencies and a shift away from reading books are all detrimental to society. However, the benefits of the web cannot be overstated. The positives from this liberating technology are incredible, with the improvement of access to information along with the creation of an environment which promotes freedom of speech defining features. The internet also reduces the authority’s ability to bury sensitive information and has opened up a freer press through a diversification of the media.
If a free and open internet remains intact in the coming decades, it will continue to challenge the political establishment’s monopoly over the flow of information. The prevalence of independent media and journalists on the free web increasingly makes it difficult for mainstream narratives to take root in the populace, as people growingly receive alternative forms of news which contradict the official story.
Recent attempts have been made to implement internet censorship under the auspices of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in an attempt to create an “internet police” force to govern the web. The TPP is a treaty currently being negotiated amongst 12 nations which will stretch from the United States to Malaysia, encompassing over 40% of the global economy. As well as solely benefiting corporations, surreptitious legislation was also introduced under the “intellectual property” chapter of the treaty. This would mean that Internet Service Providers (ISP) would act as censorship agency for the establishment, with the power to censure content and even to remove entire websites. Negotiations are still ongoing regarding the malign treaty, which will have to be closely monitored to ensure that similar legislation is not included if the bill regrettably passes.
An additional step towards internet governance took place in May, when the American Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the initial proposal of a plan which would see the creation of a two-tier internet system in America. The proposal, which is planned to be finalised by the end of this year, would pave the way for ISPs to charge individual websites for faster and higher quality service. This would produce a disparity on the web as websites who are unable to pay the fees are severely impaired compared to larger competitors.
Citizens should have the right to use the internet in whatever way they desire without any censorship or illegal snooping being conducted by the NSA or the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Surveillance should only be permitted when the intelligence services have acquired a warrant through a court of law, in the same way as the authorities are required to obtain a warrant to search your home!
Stephen Fry recently commented on the illegal surveillance conducted by the NSA and GCHQ during a conference in London, slamming it as “disgraceful” and “deeply wrong”. Fry went on to make some very pertinent points regarding governments desire to control the internet and the current state of affairs:
“It is very depressing how much governments wish to control the internet and it’s up to us to speak out about it.” It is up to the people who “are on the side of freedom……. to lend their voice to a campaign to urge governments everywhere in the free world to step back from the brink of totalitarianism that is threatening to engulf us.”
Photo: Protestors gather to oppose the introduction of internet censorship legislation in Australia 2008 (Credits: Tarale)