eG8 to consider the future of the Internet and connected society

Cheers to Nova Spivack for unveiling the e-G8 agenda and his thoughts on the upcoming e-G8 Forum in Paris, France.

UPDATE: I will be attending the eG8, assuming that a volcanic eruption in Iceland doesn’t bollux up my air travel. Fingers crossed, and analysis below.

As Spivack noted in his post, there had been very little press coverage of the event when it was annoucned. His thoughts on the future of the Internet, government and society are well worth reading, particularly with respect to the major issues of the day. I post an excerpt from his post below:

Social networks are the cultural nervous systems of our new 21st century civilization. The problem is, they are being created and governed by commercial interests, not by their constituents.

If commercial social networks truly do become the fabric of our new societies, what happens to our civilization? It becomes privatized and controlled by commercial interests, not elected governments. Is that a world you want to live in?

The Internet is a new global resource, which, like the oceans, the atmosphere and the rainforests, must be protected in order to be of greatest benefit. It is something which every human should be able to share in, equally, and in fact, equal access to the Internet may soon become necessary in order to participate equally in any society or government.

Head on over to read the whole thing. If you have thoughts on the forum or know who else is going, share it on Twitter at #eg8 or in the comments.

As I said, I’ll be going and plan to share as much of what I see and hear as is reasonably possible. There are many people on both sides of the Atlantic who are asking whether the eG8 will create solutions – or more cynicism.

The New York Times presented the eG8 as an event where the “chaos of the Internet will meet a French sense of order. The crux of the matter is that France has pursued legislation and policies that revoke online access to citizens who share intellectual property, in a so-called “three strikes law,” and pursue technical blocks rather than going through courts.

Within Europe, there are also issues that divide, with Mr. Sarkozy pursuing a more active digital agenda than leaders of many other countries. His program has included a new law allowing the authorities to suspend Internet access to Internet users who ignore repeated warnings to stop sharing unlicensed music, movies or other copyrighted works online. Another new law permits the government to block access to Web sites that disseminate child pornography, rather than requiring law enforcement officials to pursue offenders through the courts.

While Britain has passed a law authorizing a similar crackdown on digital piracy, other E.U. members have been more circumspect. On the filtering of illegal content, German officials have expressed reservations about the French approach.

The New York Times acknowledges some of the disparities and congruences here, along with the reality of a fast-changing world where Europe it but one of the global hubs of influence. For instance, India, China and Indonesia, with hundreds of millions of online citizens, don’t have a clear seat at the eG8 table, so to speak. All of them have a stake in subsequent policy choices.

Many organizations concerned with human rights, liberties and civil society online have released a statement to the eG8 and G8 that advocates “expanding internet access for all, combating
digital censorship and surveillance, limiting online intermediary liability, and upholding
principles of net neutrality.”

In particular, a coalition of organizations – which includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reporters without Borders – has highlighted concerns about a trend towards increasing “intermediary liability” and defending freedom of speech online. Part of France’s HADOPI law was declared unconstitutional in 2009 but a “3 strikes and you’re off the Net” reality still persists. In other words, while you’re in France, watch what you download.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, intermediary liability refers to holding Internet service providers or online media platforms liable for their users posting copyrighted or defamatory content. The ACTA treaty appears to increase such liability. United States Internet policies in this area over the past two decades have enabled many new businesses and services to flourish, as venture capitalist Fred Wilson articulated this week.

The coalition of civil society organizations urged eG8 participants “to follow the example of the Brazilian government’s Principles for the Governance and Use of the Internet, specifically #7 which reads: ‘All action taken against illicit activity on the network must be aimed at those directly responsible for such activities, and not at the means of access and transport, always upholding the fundamental principles of freedom, privacy and the respect for human rights.'”

Such measures and the issues that they are taken to address are not at all foreign to the halls of Washington and related Internet policy discussions, or the actions of the American federal government in recent months. That said, the United States federal government is not monolithic in its policies. It will be quite interesting, for instance, to see how the White House’sInternet freedom policy is defended by the State Department, particularly if compared or contrasted with, say, the actions of the Department of Homeland security or the Justice Department by other members of the G8.

Recent website takedowns by ICE, in concert with the White House IP and copyright office, highlight that governments on both sides of the Atlantic. are taking action to address the concerns of industry. The re-introduction of a new, tweaked “Protect IP” bill that would force search engines to remove sites that list infringing context from their indices is a legislative aspect of that common thread.

The White House has outlined an “international strategy for cyberspace” offers some insight into where American officials may stand in some respects, along with associated issues of identity, privacy and security.

As the eG8 forum looms, it’s unclear how much of the event will be an opportunity for president Sarkozy to stake out France’s position on Internet policy, how much of the programme will offer a forum for information exchange, or how much weight will be given to any resulting recommendation by policy makers. The Reuters analysis of this Web economy forum highlights these complexities. Realistically, two days and 800-odd participants may not drive much more than conversation. That said, in a time and place when the Internet – and being connected to it – are an increasingly important factor in the lives of billions of citizens, how it is architected, governed and extended matters.

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.


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