Jérémie Zimmermann on the Internet and civil society in France [VIDEO]

When it comes to the Internet, France has followed its own path in making policies, particularly with respect to intellectual property. Those choice were highlighted at the eG8 forum, where 20th century ideas clashed with the 21st century economy. The forum, held before the G-8 summit of global leaders, showed that online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders.

As Nancy Scola reported at techPresident, at the eG8, civil society groups restaked their claim to the ‘Net. Looking for more answers, I spoke with Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson for citizen advocacy group LaQuadrature du Net, about the Internet in France. For American Internet users, this interview should be by turns illuminating, provocative and a reminder of the freedoms we enjoy here.

President Sarkozy at the eG8 Summit [VIDEO]

Today, the eG8 is considering the future of the Internet and society in Paris, in advance of the G-8 Summit. President Nicolas Sarkozy opened the summit after an introduction by Maurice Lévy, Chairman & CEO, Publicis Groupe, holding up the power of the Internet but emphasizing the role of the state in providing security, privacy and protection for intellectual property. Video is embedded below:

The moment that many may remember from the question and answer period that followed was when professor Jeff Jarvis asked President Sarkozy whether he’d take a “Hippocratic oath” to “first, do no harm” when making policy choices that affect the Internet.

Related coverage at the Guardian: Sarkozy opens eG8 Summit

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.

Samantha Power: Transparency has gone global

Innovations in democratic governance have been and likely always will be a global phenomenon. Samantha Power, senior director and special assistant for multilateral affairs and human rights at the White house, highlighted the ways in which platforms and initiatives for transparency in other countries are growing on the White House blog yesterday.

While “Sunshine Week” may be an American invention, the momentum for greater transparency and accountability in government is a global phenomenon. In countries around the world, governments and civil society groups are taking new and creative steps to ensure that government delivers for citizens and to strengthen democratic accountability.

From Kenya to Brazil to France to Australia, new laws and platforms are giving citizens new means to ask for, demand or simply create greater government transparency. As Power observed, open government is taking root in India, where the passage of India’s Right to Information Act and new digital platforms have the potential to change the dynamic between citizens and the immense bureaucracy.

Power listed a series of global transparency efforts, often empowered by technology, that serve as other useful examples of “innovations in democratic governance” on every continent

  • El Salvador and Liberia recently passed progressive freedom of information laws, joining more than 80 countries with legislation in place, up from only 13 in 1990;
  • A few weeks ago in Paris, six new countries from Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East met the high standards of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), empowering citizens with unprecedented information about payments made for the extraction of natural resources;
  • Brazil and South Africa are pioneering innovative tools to promote budget transparency and foster citizen engagement in budget decision-making, along with tens of other countries that are making budget proposals and processes open to public input and scrutiny;
  • Civil society groups are developing mechanisms to enable citizens to keep track of what happens in legislatures and parliaments, including impressive web portals such as votainteligente.cl in Chile and mzalendo.com in Kenya; and
  • Experiments in citizen engagement in Tanzania, Indonesia, and the Philippines, are demonstrating that citizen efforts to monitor the disbursement of government funds for education, health, and other basic services, actually decrease the likelihood of corruption and drive better performance in service delivery.

There’s a long road ahead for open government here in the United States. While improving collaboration and transparency through open government will continue to be difficult nuts to crack, it looks like “Uncle Sam” could stand to learn a thing or two from the efforts and successes of other countries on transparency. Addressing FOIA reform and better mobile access to information are two places to start.

For more on how open government can have a global impact, click on over to this exclusive interview with Samantha Power on national security, transparency and open government.