#FCBBCA Cyber snooping: In whose hands should internet governance be entrusted?
By Doug Brown
A packed audience filled the Frontline Club forum on 23rd October to hear a panel tackle the question: In whose hands should internet governance be entrusted? Chaired by the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship Kirsty Hughes the event, in association with BBC Arabic, featured: Icelandic MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir; developer for The Tor Project, Jacob Appelbaum; independent media technology consultant, Karl Kathuria and director at the Cyber Security Centre Dr Ian Brown.
Dr Ian Brown kicked off proceedings by describing the distribution of power over cyberspace. Referring particularly to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) which runs the international domain name system and although it is a “international facing” it is governed by US laws.
“Is it fair that this one powerful country the US should have such say over something that is a global resource?… Since so many large internet companies; the Googles, the Facebooks, the Twitters and so on, that are becoming increasingly important in internet governance debates, are headquartered in the US or at the very least have significant exposure to the US, and US law and case law has very firmly said that the behaviour of companies… with any assets exposed to the US had better watch out when it comes to their behaviour elsewhere in the world because there have been a number of US laws applied to the behaviour of these companies elsewhere in the world”
Karl Kathuria then moved on to discuss the censorship of information by governments from a more optimistic viewpoint, describing his time at the BBC on access to users in Iran and China:
“People were still able to get access to that content anyway, people are always looking for the content… its average everyday people who are reaching out.”
Birgitta Jónsdóttir has misgivings on calls for further global internet governance:
“Shouldn’t we have a global freedom of information act?… it is impossible… it would destroy the internet as it is today… maybe we need to start to look at this differently.”
Jacob Appelbaum, a core member of the anti snooping software Tor described the rise of cyber snooping and the oppression it can bring:
“Surveillance is a support system for violence.”
“What we see is a massive expansion of authoritarianism across the globe, even in so called free countries… the mere fact that it has gone so far and the American government has become so brazen.. is an incredibly bad sign, because in a lot of ways the US has led the world in these matters.”
“Freedom from suspicion is part of the necessity for feeling free… we should look at Facebook as stasi-book, and we should look at human data as human data-traffic. It is not a problem of over there-istan, it is a problem over here.”
Birgitta Jónsdóttir discussed the Iceland Modern Media Initiative as a solution to internet governance and excessive cyber snooping, and its uptake by the Icelandic Government to turn Iceland into a “safe haven” for freedom of information.
“Take the same concept as if you were to create a tax haven, so why not create the same for a freedom of expression and speech haven… if you have one country that sets the standard [other countries will rise to it]. I have a dream for a ‘Scandinavian Shield’… as the Scandinavian countries now have a good idea of the importance of these rights to bring the laws into the 21st century.”
Dr Ian Brown finished on a note about public uptake of new technology that can divert around any governmental snooping, “encouraging people to use the tools that already exist is the first step”.
View reaction to the debate on Twitter: #fcbbca, or watch the debate as it happened below.