Open Government News on Gov 2.0 TV: The Year in Review, SOPA and POTUS on Google+

On Thursday, I joined Edmonton-based social media consultant and digital strategist Walter Schwabe on “Gov 2.0 TV” to talk about what’s new in open government since our last interview.

Over the course of the show, we talked about the following stories:

On Twitter, censorship and Internet freedom

I’m watching a lot of reactions roll across the social Web to the news that Twitter will now be able to censor tweets, if required by law, on a country-by-country basis.

 

“In the face of a valid and applicable legal order,” Twitter spokeswoman Jodi Olson told techPresident’s Nick Judd via an email, “the choice facing services is between global removal of content with no notice to the user, or a transparent, targeted approach where the content is removed only in the country in question.” Twitter is opting for what the New York Times has dubbed a “micro-censorship policy,” where it will withhold certain content (aka, tweets) from Twitter users within a country.

Twitter’s help page on “country withheld content” offers more context and explanation for users than that its blog:

Many countries, including the United States, have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.

We have found that transparency is vital to freedom of expression. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content we will promptly notify affected users, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so, and clearly indicate to viewers when content has been withheld. We have also expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to include the publication of requests to withhold content in addition to the DMCA notifications that we already transmit.

As is often the case, Danny Sullivan has produced the more comprehensive, detailed analysis of what the news shared on Twitter’s blog today means, backed up by solid reporting. He says that “there’s no need to hit the panic button.” Based upon what I’m reading, I agree, albeit with caveats that we’ll need to see how this is implemented.

“The restrictions will be based on the IP address of the user,” writes Sullivan. As this isn’t perfect, Twitter will allow people to override this, if they believe they’re being inaccurately targeted.” As Sullivan explains, Twitter has been complying with DMCA requests for some time. This move actually means we will probably learn more about what’s been happening. Here’s the meat of his post:

“What’s new is that eventually, Twitter may expand to having staff based in other countries. That makes the company more liable to legal actions in those countries, so it needs a way to comply with those legal demands. The new “Country Withheld Content” change gives it a framework to do so.

That, of course, leads to another concern. What if some country undergoing a revolution declares that tweeting about protests is illegal? Would Twitter suddenly start censoring tweets that many within those countries might depend on?

Twitter tells me that this is more a hypothetical concern than a real one that it expects to face. Typically when this happens, Twitter says, it doesn’t get demands to to block particular accounts or tweets. Instead, authorities in the affected countries either ignore Twitter (good for freedom of expression) or block it entirely (bad, but also out of Twitter’s control).”

The crux of the matter, to me, is that Twitter is a venture-backed private company with investors that want to see growth and profit. It’s not a public utility. Jack has said that he envisions every connected device being able to tweet. That’s not going to come to pass unless they expand into the world’s biggest markets, China and India. To do so, Twitter will have to make similar decisions as Google did when it entered China and censored its results. Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt decided eventually to change how it handled search, redirecting to Hong Kong. This is only a first pass at understanding what’s happened here and why, so other explanations are welcome in the comments, if grounded in fact.

As Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan Zuckerman and others have been explaining for years, what we think of as the new public square online is complicated by the fact that these platforms for free expression are owned and operated by private companies. Rebecca has explored these issues and how we can think of them in context in her new, excellent book, “Consent of the Networked.”

“I know some people saw this and got upset about “censorship!” but looking at the details, it actually looks like Twitter is doing a smart thing here, wrote Mike Masnick, the founder of TechDirt, on Twitter deciding to censor locally than block globally:

You could argue that the proper response would be to stand up to local governments and say, “sorry, we don’t block anything” — and I’d actually have sympathy with that response. But the truth is that if a government is demanding censorship, then Twitter is likely going to have to comply or face complete blocking. The solution that it came up with is somewhat more elegant: it will just block the specific content in the specific location and (importantly) will try to let users know that the content is blocked while also sending as much info as it can to the Chilling Effects website so that people can learn about what’s being censored. This is a lot more transparent and hopefully actually shines more light on efforts to censor Twitter.

While hundreds of millions of people may hope that Twitter’s executive team, including @Jack or @DickC, Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, and YouTube‘s execs, to name key players, will act in the public interest and protect their users, they are obligated to obey the laws of the countries they operate within and their major shareholders.

As I’ve written elsewhere, my sense is that, of all of the major social media players — which in 2012 now include Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Tumblr and MySpace, amongst others — Twitter has been one of the leaders in the technology community for sticking up for its users where it can, particularly with respect to the matter of fighting to make Twitter subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department regarding user data public.

When reached for comment, Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, offering the following statement:

From my view, this isn’t different from how Twitter’s already been handling court-ordered requests, except that it won’t affect users outside of a given country. Given their moves to open an office in the UK (with all of its crazy defamation laws), I can see why they’ve taken this route. It’s unfortunate that they may have to censor any content at all, but I applaud their move to be as transparent as possible about it.

Twitter’s general counsel, Alexander Macgillivray (@amac) deserves all due credit for that decision and others, along with the lucid blog post that explained how SOPA would affect ordinary, non-infringing users.

Both Colin Crowell, Twitter’s head of public policy, and MacGillivray indicated on Twitter today that if tweets are “reactively withheld” in a given country, the rest of the world will still be able to see them.

The  Chilling Effects page for Twitter  “is a first step towards that, though we hope to have fewer datapoints,” tweeted MacGillivray.

Let’s hope they uphold that commitment and share raw data about the censorship requests, as +Google itself has done, where possible.

UPDATE: Per Xeni Jardin’s post on Twitter and censorship at BoingBoing, Macgillivray told her “three quick things”:

#1: I can confirm that this has nothing to do with any investor (primary or secondary).

#2: This is not a change in philosophy. #jan25

#3: you’ll see notices about withheld content at: http://www.chillingeffects.org… so you’ll get to figure out whether we’ve “caved” or not with data. This change gives us the ability to keep content up even if we have to withhold it somewhere.

Mathew Ingram also posted a thoughtful analysis of Twitter censoring tweets at GigaOm:

The company says that it will not accede to just any request for removal, regardless of whether it comes from a government, and has made it clear that its commitment to free speech extends to dissidents using Twitter for revolutionary purposes during events such as the Arab Spring in Egypt. But as Twitter becomes more and more of a global phenomenon, those commitments could be put to the test. What happens when someone posts a tweet that makes fun of the founder of Turkey, something that is a crime under Turkish law?

More than anything else, Twitter’s announcement highlights both how integral a part of the global information ecosystem it has become, and how vulnerable that ecosystem can be when a single entity controls such a crucial portion of it. How Twitter handles that challenge will ultimately determine whether it deserves the continued trust of its users.

UPDATE: Jillian C. York wrote more about Twitter’s latest move on her blog:

Let’s be clear: This is censorship. There’s no way around that. But alas, Twitter is not above the law.  Just about every company hosting user-generated content has, at one point or another, gotten an order or government request to take down content.  Google lays out its orders in its Transparency Report.  Other companies are less forthright.  In any case, Twitter has two options in the event of a request: Fail to comply, and risk being blocked by the government in question, or comply (read: censor).  And if they have “boots on the ground”, so to speak, in the country in question?  No choice.

In the event that a company chooses to comply with government requests and censor content, there are a number of mitigating steps the company can take.  The most important, of course, is transparency, something that Twitter has promised.  Google is also transparent in its content removal (Facebook? Not so much).  Twitter’s move to geolocate their censorship is also smart, given the alternative (censoring it worldwide, that is) – particularly since it appears a user can manually change his or her location.

I understand why people are angry, but this does not, in my view, represent a sea change in Twitter’s policies. Twitter has previously taken down content–for DMCA requests, at least–and will no doubt continue to face requests in the future. I believe that the company is doing its best in a tough situation…and I’ll be the first to raise hell if they screw up.”

UPDATE: Writing at the Wall Street Journal’s “Real Time China” blog, Josh Chin looks at Chinese reactions to the news and what it would take to get Twitter unblocked in China. His reporting casts doubt on my speculation above and in a statement I gave to Al Jazeera last night.

Even if Twitter were somehow able to get in Beijing’s good graces, Mr. Bishop says, it would have almost no shot at competing with home-grown “weibo” microblogging products from Sina and Tencent that are already well-established and offer more features. “Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are better products,” he says. “Twitter’s only competitive advantage here is freedom of speech. Once you start censoring, what do you have left to offer?”

Indeed, Mr. Dorsey himself quashed the idea of Twitter being able to break into China in an interview in Hong Kong in October in which he said his company “just can’t compete” in China “and that’s not up to us to change.”

In developing the ability to censor tweets by region, Twitter more likely has different markets in mind. The only countries mentioned by name in the blog post announcing the new policy were France and Germany, both of which, the post notes, ban pro-Nazi content. How to handle that ban is a dilemma that Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all struggled with in Germany.

UPDATE: Nick Judd published an excellent post at techPresident reporting on why some prominent journalists and free expression advocates, including Andy Carvin (see comment below) and York aren’t mad about Twitter’s censorship move:

All of this seems to indicate that Twitter chose this way to proceed in the hopes that it would serve as a compromise between the company’s desire to expand globally and its desire to remain on the same side as the folks at the EFF on issues like user privacy and user rights. This is the same company that, despite getting no money from its users, went to the legal mat for some of them to earn the right to notify them that federal investigators wanted records of their direct messages in conjunction with a Wikileaks investigation. But it’s still a company, and as such, its platform has to adhere to the rule of law in the U.S. and anywhere else it has staff, or, well … Megaupload.

Twitter’s move here is not really pre-emptive. Other Internet giants have already implemented a similar policy. Google, remember, already maps every request for content removal or government request for user data that it can.

And Twitter actually is under pressure from foreign governments — just not the ones you’d expect.

As we say here on the interwebs, read the whole thing.

UPDATE: “Twitter’s policy is actually a model of how this should work,” says “technosociologist” Zeynep Tufecki, who writes that Twitter’s new policy is helpful to free-speech advocates:

In my opinion, with this policy, Twitter is fighting to protect free speech on Twitter as best it possibly can. It also fits with its business model so I am not going to argue they are uniquely angelic, but Twitter does have a good track record. Twitter was the only company which first fought the US government to protect user information in the Wikileaks cas,e and then informed the users when it lost the fight. In fact, Twitter’s transparency is the only reason we even know of this; other companies, it appears, silently caved and complied.

Twitter’s latest policy is purposefully designed to allow Twitter to exist as a platform as broadly as possible while making it as hard as possible for governments to censor content, either tweet by tweet or more, all the while giving free-speech advocates a lot of tools to fight censorship.

“Decentralization is often great but in Internet is not free of questions of jurisdiction and law. As such, this is a good policy,” she tweeted. “It reflects recognition that Net isn’t “virtual”; it’s not a law & govt free zone; Q is how to protect freedoms given reality.”

UPDATE: “The reality, of course, is that these are businesses with corporate interests, not triumphant defenders of free speech — and they each provide the bulk of their services for free, and make money by selling their users’ attention to advertisers,” writes Mathew Ingram on his an excellent post curating of links and analysis regarding this move over at GigaOm considering how much should we trust our information overlords. (And yes, linking to his linking is feeling a bit meta today.)

The standard response when someone criticizes Google’s privacy policy or Twitter’s new tactics or Facebook’s changes is “Don’t use them.” But what is the alternative? Google isn’t just a search engine but a giant email provider and has a host of other services people need to do their jobs. Facebook and Twitter are tools that hundreds of millions of people use daily to connect and share with their friends and family — which is why “open source” alternatives such as Diaspora and Identi.ca have failed to gain much traction.

Dave Winer and other open-network advocates have repeatedly made the point that relying on a single corporation, or even several of them, for access to such important tools of communication is a huge risk. But what choice do we have? We either have to try harder to find more open alternatives, or we have to trust that Google and Twitter and Facebook are looking out for our best interests — and when they don’t, we have to make it clear that they are failing, and hold them to account.

UPDATE: I talked with Al Jazeera English about making sense of Twitter and censorship. Cynthia Wong, Director of the Global Internet Freedom Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, was also quoted in the story.

[Wong] says the question Twitter must ask itself is, is it better to remain available in a country, even if some content is blocked?

Wong says Twitter is in fact being thoughtful in its answer to that question. “They are limiting the impact of the block to only the local jurisdiction, trying to be transparent about which tweets are withheld, and at what government’s request,” Wong said.

Whether Twitter is trying to be thoughtful or not, opposition to the decision around the world was swift and negative, with many Twitter users protesting the decision. Journalists and human rights advocates, understandably, have raised serious concerns about Twitter’s decision. Reporters Without Borders has sent a letter to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey asking him not to co-operate with censors.

We urge you to reverse this decision, which restricts freedom of expression and runs counter to the movements opposed to censorship that have been linked to the Arab Spring, in which Twitter served as a sounding board. By finally choosing to align itself with the censors, Twitter is depriving cyberdissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization.

We are very disturbed by this decision, which is nothing other than local level censorship carried out in cooperation with local authorities and in accordance with local legislation, which often violates international free speech standards. Twitter’s position that freedom of expression is interpreted differently from country to country is inacceptable. This fundamental principle is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Twitter has published an update to its post on the decision:

…we believe the new, more granular approach to withheld content is a good thing for freedom of expression, transparency, accountability— and for our users. Besides allowing us to keep Tweets available in more places, it also allows users to see whether we are living up to our freedom of expression ideal.

Q: Do you filter out certain Tweets before they appear on Twitter?
A: No. Our users now send a billion Tweets every four days—filtering is neither desirable nor realistic. With this new feature, we are going to be reactive only: that is, we will withhold specific content only when required to do so in response to what we believe to be a valid and applicable legal request.

As we do today, we will evaluate each request before taking any action. Any content we do withhold in response to such a request is clearly identified to users in that country as being withheld. And we are now able to make that content available to users in the rest of the world.

The reaction from dissidents around the world has been particularly striking, given the potential impact of this decision upon their ability to speak out. As RSF noted, freedom of speech is part of the universal declaration of human rights. For many users or potential users, Twitter’s decision means that, while their speech will be preserved for the rest of the world to see, their fellow citizens may not. While this approach may be nuanced, the company can be fairly criticized for ever deciding to censor tweets at all. In the initial blog post on this decision, Twitter stated that the standards for free expression some countries “differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there.”

Individuals and organizations within the broad coalition opposing SOPA due to concerns about freedom of expression online should find common cause with those who now would question Twitter’s decision to “exist” at all in countries whose governments do not respect the universal human rights of their citizens, as opposed to providing them with the means to share “what’s happening” with the rest of humanity.

The “Internet freedom” policies advanced by the U.S. Department of State under the Obama administration would, in theory, support that position as well. This is precisely the “dictator’s dilemma” that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described. There should be a line where preserving principle is more important than opening new markets.

UPDATE: Writing for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Eva Galperin considered what Twitter’s local takedown system would mean fro freedom of expression. She wrote a thoughtful, thorough post, including a note that Twitter has already been taking down content and echoing the opinion of others that the driver for the announcement is Twitter’s expansion to new countries with laws that govern freedom of expression, like Germany, where it will be bound by them. “Twitter is trying to mitigate these problems by only taking down access to content for people coming from IP addresses the country seeking to censor that content,” writes Galperin. “That’s good. For now, the overall effect is less censorship rather than more censorship, since they used to take things down for all users. But people have voiced concerns that ‘if you build it, they will come,’–if you build a tool for state-by-state censorship, states will start to use it. We should remain vigilant against this outcome.”

Galperin also offers specific actions that Twitter users concerned about the company’s actions can take, beyond protesting the move or leaving the platform all together:

Keep Twitter honest. First, pay attention to the notices that Twitter sends and to the archive being created on Chilling Effects. If Twitter starts honoring court orders from India to take down tweets that are offensive to the Hindu gods, or tweets that criticize the king in Thailand, we want to know immediately. Furthermore, transparency projects such as Chilling Effects allow activists to track censorship all over the world, which is the first step to putting pressure on countries to stand up for freedom of expression and put a stop to government censorship.

What else? Circumvent censorship. Twitter has not yet blocked a tweet using this new system, but when it does, that tweet will not simply disappear—there will be a message informing you that content has been blocked due to your geographical location. Fortunately, your geographical location is easy to change on the Internet. You can use a proxy or a Tor exit node located in another country. Read Write Web also suggests that you can circumvent per-country censorship by simply changing the country listed in your profile.

This post has been updated as further information or posts have become available.

U.S. Supreme Court decides government use of GPS for monitoring constitutes search under the 4th Amendment.

Huge electronic privacy news out of Washington. In an historic unanimous decision on United States vs. Jones, the United States Supreme Court found that “the Government’s attachment of the GPS device to the vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment.” That means that the federal government will now need a probable cause warrant to affix a GPS device to a car.

Kashmir Hill, Forbes’s ace privacy writer, summarized this decision succinctly in a tweet linking to the decision: “Gov lost. Privacy won.”

“The decision, in what is arguably the biggest Fourth Amendment case in the computer age, rejected the Obama administration’s position that American’s had no privacy in their public movements,” wrote David Kravets in Wired: “Warrant required for GPS tracking, Supreme Court rules.” Kravetz observed how long it’s been since a similar case made it to the nation’s highest court:

During oral arguments in the case in November, a number of justices invoked the specter of Big Brother if the police could secretly attach GPS devices on Americans’ cars without getting a probable-cause warrant.

The last time the high court considered the Fourth Amendment, technology and privacy in a big-ticket case was a decade ago, when the justices ruled that the authorities must obtain search warrants to employ thermal-imaging devices to detect indoor marijuana-growing operations, saying the imaging devices carry the potential to “shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy.”

“While the result was unanimous, the reasoning was not,” observes Timothy Lee in ArsTechnica: “Supreme Court holds warrantless wiretapping unconstitutional

A five-judge majority led by Justice Scalia, and including most of the court’s conservatives, focused on the physical trespass involved in attaching the device to the car. Three of the court’s liberals signed a concurrence by Justice Alito, a conservative, that would have taken a stronger pro-privacy stance, holding that extended warrantless tracking itself violates the Fourth Amendment regardless of whether the government committed a trespass to accomplish it.

Justice Sotomayor straddled the line. She signed onto the majority opinion, but also filed a separate concurrence in which she endorsed both Scalia’s concerns about physical trespass and Justice Alito’s broader concerns about the dangers of warrantless GPS tracking.

“As Justice Alito incisively observes, the same technological advances that have made possible nontrespassory surveillance techniques will also affect the Katz test by shaping the evolution of societal privacy expectations,” Sotomayor wrote, referring to the famous case of Katz v. United States that established the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test for violations of the Fourth Amendment. “Under that rubric, I agree with Justice Alito that, at the very least, ‘longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.'”

The Center for Democracy and Technology, which was an active participant in the jurisprudence surrounding the case, released the following statement on the ruling:

“The Supreme Court today made it clear that it will not allow advancing technology to erode the Constitutional right of privacy,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Director of CDT’s Project on Freedom, Security and Technology.
The Justice Department had argued that the GPS device, because it tracked the person’s movements only on the public streets, did not raise any concern under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which generally requires a warrant for searches and seizures.  Not a single Justice agreed with the government on that issue.
Instead, all nine agreed that, under the facts of the case, the Constitution required a warrant issued by a judge.  Five Justices agreed that any use of GPS planted by the government was a search generally requiring a warrant, effectively settling that issue.
The case also has implications for tracking individuals using cell phone tower data.  Five Justices held that a warrant would have been required on the facts of this case even if the government tracking did not involve planting a GPS device.  “Cell phone triangulation can be just as precise as GPS,” Nojeim said. “Congress should build on this opinion by writing a statute that draws a bright line requiring the government, except in emergencies, to get a warrant before turning your cell phone into a tracking device.”
CDT has helped to coordinate a coalition of major Internet companies, think tanks and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum calling on Congress to require a warrant for cell phone tracking.
CDT filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case, arguing that warrant is required for GPS tracking.

“Wow,” tweeted electronic privacy and security researcher Chris Soghoian. “Justice Sotomayor in Jones concurrence (pg 5): it may be necessary to reconsider the 3rd party doctrine,” he continued, which is that there is “no reasonable expectation of privacy for data held by ISPs & telcos.”

In the decision, Sotomayor wrote that it is ‘ill suited to the digital age.’

“So 4 supreme court judges embraced the mosaic theory (but not by name),” tweeted Soghoian. “4 weeks of GPS tracking by gov not OK, but a lesser amount might be. Also interesting to see Sotomayor cite last year’s OnStar privacy firestorm as evidence that the public is not cool with covert GPS tracking. Majority opinion by Sup Ct paves way for more gov tracking of cellphones, which gov still claims it can do (w/single tower data) w/o warrant.”

Expect more tech policy and privacy writers to be all over this one, all week.

As Wikipedia prepares to go dark in protest, prospects for SOPA and PIPA dim in Congress

Online pressure to rethink anti-piracy bills that threaten the Internet industries, security and online free speech continues to build, although, as the New York Times reported, many still expect these online piracy bills invite a protracted battle. There are, as it turns out, quite a few people willing to stand up to these bills.

More notable criticism of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the PROTECT IP Act in the U.S. Senate went online this weekend. Tim O’Reilly made his case for why SOPA and PIPA are bad industrial policy this weekend. The EFF explained how SOPA and PIPA violate White House principles supporting free speech. The MIT Media Lab came out against the bills with a lucid post by Joi Ito and Ethan Zuckerman explaining why they oppose SOPA and PIPA.

And, despite the paucity of coverage on the TV networks whose parent companies helped write the bills, a prominent blog post on SOPA and PIPA at Craiglist will continue to raise awareness online. The most intense day of online protest looks yet to come: On Wednesday, many websites will “blackout” to protest these bills, including Reddit. The biggest of these to date is Wikipedia’s SOPA initiative: co-founder Jimmy Wales shared on Twitter that Wikipedia will be “blacked out on Wednesday.

For those left wondering why such opposition persists after some sensational headlines this morning, prospects for the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House are significantly damaged but the legislation is not “dead.” Rather, the legislation is shelved until ‘consensus is reached.’ I believe that the writer at the Examiner sourced Rep. Darrell Issa’s statement from late Friday night when he wrote that Rep. Cantor made a ‘surprise statement.’ There’s no such statement in the House Majority Leader’s social media accounts or at GOPLeader.gov. As of this afternoon, requests for a statement to Rep. Cantor’s office have not been returned.

Here’s what actually was released: “Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote,” said Rep. Issa in a prepared statement released late Friday night.

Seasoned security scribe Bill Brenner is more reasonable in his caution at CSO Online and at his blog, where he writes that:

It appears SOPA is headed for the shelf due to the rising tide of opposition. Details on the site where I do my day job, CSOonline. I also wrote a post warning people that this isn’t over by a long shot.

Why is it important to be careful about declaring this legislation dead? Consider recent experience on another controversial bill. The White House indicated that they won’t accept a bill that damages freedom of expression or security this weekend. Remember, however, the statements of his administration regarding H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). President Obama signed the military spending bill into law at the end of 2011. He added an important coda to it, however:

“My Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” wrote President Obama in a signing statement.

It’s the actions of presidential administrations in the future, given detention powers in the NDAA, that worry many observers, including the ACLU. Once such executive authority is granted, it will likely take years for the judicial system to provide a check or balance. And given that the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security has already been taking down websites for over a year, caution for this White House’s position here is warranted.

In one scenario, consider that a heavily amended version of SOPA and PIPA that do contain DNS provisions could make it through Congress, once “consensus is reached” in the House and a filibuster from Senator Wyden in the Senate is overcome.

In the absence of clearer guidance from the House Majority Leader’s office on what’s acceptable in the bill, it remains possible that a deal could still be made which legislative leaders then feel represents “consensus” — Rep. Smith has said he’ll pull the DNS provisions, for instance — and then SOPA could be brought to a vote. The President could add a signing statement and, well, you get the idea.

The Senate version’s of an anti-piracy bill (The PROTECT IP Act) is set for a potential vote next week. 14 Senators are currently publicly opposed to it. Without support from the House or the White House, of course, its prospects to become law in this Congress are damaged but not eliminated. Senator Leahy has indicated that he’d recommend study the impact of the DNS provisions after passage, not pull them entirely. Brad Plumer, who wrote that lawmakers are backing away from online piracy bills, offered this analysis:

Now, that doesn’t mean these bills, or their most controversial features, are dead and buried. Leahy, for one, was pretty clear that still supports passing a bill with DNS-blocking — he just thinks that feature should be studied carefully before it actually gets implemented. (As TechDirt’s Michael Masnick points out, that sounds like a compelling reason to slow down and reconsider before passing the bill, rather than enacting a provision that lawmakers don’t fully understand.)

UPDATE: On Tuesday, January 17th, Rep. Lamar Smith said that markup of SOPA would resume in February. So no, SOPA is not dead. Here’s the statement his office released:

Chairman Smith: “To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America’s intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy.

“Due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February.

“I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property.”

One of the most powerful politicians in the U.S House has publicly voiced his opposition to the bill, consistent with past opposition to regulatory burdens created in Washington. “The internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history,” said Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), in a statement opposing SOPA. “It should stay that way. While H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.”

He’s right. These bills would upend the predictable legal environment created by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, subjecting online innovators to a new era of uncertainty and risk. Legal experts from the top law schools in the country warn that they would damage free speech. Human rights experts warn that they would would force pervasive scrutiny and surveillance of Internet users’ online activities. Venture capitalists warn would chill the growth of social media and conscript every online platform into a new role as content police. The government’s own cybersecurity experts, at Sandia Labs, warn that these bills would damage DNSSEC, harming national security at a time when American government, businesses and consumers face attacks on their networks and computers every day. The founders of the Internet and World Wide Web warn that would lay the groundwork for an increasingly balkanized Internet, directly undercutting U.S. foreign policy advocacy in support of a single, global, open network.

If you’re curious about where your elected officials in Washington stand, learn whether your U.S. Representative or Senators support SOPA or PIPA using SOPAOpera.org, a Web application made by ProPublica using public data. (A full database is available at ProPublica.org, along with the methodology behind it.)

While Wikipedia and other sites blacking out at this scale is an an unprecedented action, what happens offline is still critical. That’s where laws are still made, after all. While new means of collective action enabled by the Internet are increasingly important, particularly with respect to generating coverage of these bills by the broadcast media, the voices that Representatives and Senators listen to most are those of their constituents. If these bills are important to you, the most effective action that any concerned citizen that wants to talk to Congress can take remains to go see your Senator or Congressman in person, call them or write them a letter.

Rep. Smith pulls DNS provision from SOPA, Rep Issa postpones hearing, White House responds to epetition

The Friday night news dump lives on: at 12:30 AM last night, I received an email from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: according to the release, Rep. Lamar Smith said he will remove the domain name provision from the Stop Online Piracy Act. Rep. Darrell Issa says he’ll suspend next week’s hearing with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian & other Internet experts. As you may have heard, the United States Congress is considering anti-piracy bills that could cripple Internet industries that are engine of the dynamic economic growth all around the world: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the PROTECT IP Act in the U.S. Senate.

Here’s the release:

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa today announced that a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, which was to examine the impact of Domain Name Service (DNS) and search engine blocking on the Internet, has been postponed following assurances that anti-piracy legislation will not move to the House floor this Congress without a consensus.

“While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act, I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House. Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote,” said Chairman Issa. “The voice of the Internet community has been heard. Much more education for Members of Congress about the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal.”

“Earlier tonight, Chairman Smith announced that he will remove the DNS blocking provision from his legislation. Although SOPA, despite the removal of this provision, is still a fundamentally flawed bill, I have decided that postponing the scheduled hearing on DNS blocking with technical experts is the best course of action at this time. Right now, the focus of protecting the Internet needs to be on the Senate where Majority Leader Reid has announced his intention to try to move similar legislation in less than two weeks.”
http://www.keepthewebopen.com

This isn’t the end of the news, however: on the same night, this morning, the White House responded to the “We The People” epetition asking the President to veto the Stop Online Piracy Act & PROTECT IP Act. Cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt, US CTO Aneesh Chopra and OMB intellectual property enforcement coordinator Victoria Espinel wrote it. While they don’t address the veto requested in the epetition, the White House did come out strongly against the DNS provisions in the bills.

Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small. Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected. To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity. Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.

We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.

Taken in context with Senator Leahy’s statement on reconsidering DNS (albeit not removing it from the bill) and Rep. Lamar Smith saying he’ll remove a DNS provision from SOPA, one of the major concerns that the tech community appears to have been heard and validated. Read my past coverage of SOPA and PIPA at Radar for these concerns, including links to the bills and a white paper from Internet engineers.

The White House, however, did write that “existing tools are not strong enough” and that they want legislation to move forward. That could well be the OPEN Act supported by Senator Ron Wyden and Rep. Darrell Issa.

The MPAA has also weighed in on the Congressional moves. (PDF. Michael O’Leary, senior executive VP for global policy and external affairs for the MPAA:

“We fully support Chairman Smith in his efforts to protect U.S. workers, businesses and consumers
against online theft. We believe his announcement today regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act and
Senator Leahy’s earlier announcement regarding the PROTECT IP Act will help forge an even
broader consensus for legislative action, and we look forward to working with them and other
interested parties in passing strong legislation utilizing the remaining tools at our disposal to protect
American jobs and creativity. We continue to believe that DNS filtering is an important tool, already
used in numerous countries internationally to protect consumers and the intellectual property of
businesses with targeted filters for rogue sites. We are confident that any close examination of DNS
screening will demonstrate that contrary to the claims of some critics, it will not break the Internet.”

Gary Price, who forwarded the MPAA response, also notes that “on Thursday, the Library of Congress named a new Director of Communications. She starts at the end of this month. She was key in the founding of the Pro-SOPA Copyright Alliance and
also worked for the MPAA.

We’ll be seeing reactions to this all weekend. I’ll link to the best of them tomorrow from this story. For now, a couple of things seems clear:

1) The technical concerns of the Internet community appear to have been heard. It’s also likely that the federal government’s own cybersecurity experts, including Sandia Labs and Schmidt himself, influenced Congressional actions here. Senator Leahy, however, has not committed to remove DNS provisions entirely from PIPA, only to research them upon passage. That’s likely to be unsatisfactory to many concerned with the bills. “Trust us” to study it after passage is a tough sell.

2) The White House is supporting the arguments that online piracy is a a “real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers.” That statement should have been supported with more evidence from the government’s research institutions.

3) The response from the White House has to be considered an open government win, with respect to an epetition resulting in a statement from the top IT officials in the country. That said, posting it on a Friday night Saturday morning, as opposed to a response from the President during his Friday news conference, buried* diminished the impact of the news and muted its political impact.

4) Most American citizens oppose government involvement in blocking access to content online, particularly when the word “censor” is accurately applied. When asked if ISPs, social media sites and search engines should block access — as they would under SOPA — only a third of Americans agree.

The White House stated that “we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

It will be up to the American people to hold them accountable for the commitment.

Update: Here’s Erik Cain, writing at Forbes on the White House response on SOPA:

This pretty clearly pits the Obama Administration against SOPA/PIPA. It also calls for more open and honest discussion about these bills and the problems they seek to address. Since there has been almost no discussion or debate until very recently on the legislation in question, this is a very welcome development.

I admit that while I’m pretty glad to see the administration come out with this sort of in-depth statement on the matter, I have a hard time trusting the president on these issues. His veto pen notably did not come out to quash the NDAA – a bill he vowed at one point to not let past his desk.

Then again, internet regulations may have wide, bipartisan support but still nowhere near the support that a defense funding bill has. Obama may have seen a political fight he couldn’t win, read the writing on the wall, and backed off of the NDAA rather than suffer a blow right before an election. The same does not apply to SOPA/PIPA.

So an executive veto on these bills seems much more likely, though at this point – with various congressmen starting to speak out, lots of companies threatening blackouts of their websites – including Wikipedia and Reddit – we may see the momentum behind these bills grind to a halt. The White House statement on the matter will only help push the conversation in congress. That’s a good thing.

Here’s Matt Yglesias, who writes at Slate that the Obama administration came out against SOPA and PIPA:

It increasingly looks like the SOPA/Protect IP fights are turning into an example of how the political system sometimes does work correctly after all. The con forces on these bills initially looked numerically overwhelmed in congress and hugely outspent. But opponents really mobilized vocally, got people and institutions who don’t normally focus on politics to write about this, and perhaps most important of all demonstrated that more people genuinely cared about this issue than most members of congress initially realized. Now the momentum has slowed incredibly and the White House technology policy team has come out against these bills.

To look a gift horse in the mouth for a second, however, I note that the White House statement does contain a “reasonable” to-be-sure line stating that “online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs.”

Greg Sandoval and Declan McCullagh for CNET: DNS provision pulled from SOPA, victory for opponents:

Without the DNS provision, SOPA now looks a great deal more like the OPEN Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), which was designed to be an alternative to SOPA. A watered-down SOPA means Smith improves his chances of getting the bill through Congress but at this point, nothing is assured.

Late today came word that six Republican senators have asked Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone a vote on Pro IP, also known as PIPA. The senators wrote: “Prior to committee action, some members expressed substantive concerns about the bill, and there was a commitment to resolve them prior to floor consideration.”

Leahy issued a statement which appears to be a reply to the request by those senators. He argued that the PIPA vote should go ahead as planned.

“Saying no to debating the [Pro IP Act] hurts the economy,” Leahy wrote. “It says no to the American workers whose livelihoods depend on intellectual property-reliant businesses. And it says yes to the criminals hiding overseas stealing American intellectual property…all Senators should agree that this is a debate we must have…and should support cloture on the motion to proceed on January 24.”

It sounds as if Leahy is trying to keep some of the bill’s supporters from bolting. There’s little question now that some SOPA and PIPA backers in Congress are in retreat and seeking some kind of compromise in the face of significant opposition.

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing: Lamar Smith and Patrick Leahy blink, pull DNS-blocking out of PIPA and SOPA

After repeatedly insisting that establishing a national censoring firewall with DNS-blocking was critical to the Stop Online Piracy Act, the bill’s sponsor (and chair of the House Judicial Committee) Rep Lamar Smith has blinked. He’s agreed to cut DNS-blocking from the bill, in the face of a threat from rival Rep Darrell Issa, whose House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was preparing to hear expert testimony on the harm that this provision would do to national security and the Internet’s robustness against fraud and worse.

Even without its DNS provisions, SOPA remains terminally flawed, creating a regime that would be terminally hostile to any site that contains links and any site that allows the public to post comments on it. But attention has shifted to PIPA, the Senate version of the bill, which is nearly as bad, and which is rocketing towards an imminent vote.

Timothy Lee at ArsTechnica: Obama administration joins the ranks of SOPA skeptics:

Combine all those concerns, and the statement is a fairly sweeping condemnation of SOPA and PIPA in their current form. Espinel and her colleagues appear to have left enough wiggle room in the statement to allow the president to sign a future version of the bill that addresses some, but not all, of the critics’ concerns. But the bill’s sponsors are now going to have to work hard to satisfy critics and build a consensus in favor of passage.

Tim O’Reilly at Google+ on the White House response to the epetition on SOPA and PIPA:

I found myself profoundly disturbed by something that seems to me to go to the root of the problem in Washington: the failure to correctly diagnose the problem we are trying to solve, but instead to accept, seemingly uncritically, the claims of various interest groups. The offending paragraph is as follows:

“Let us be clear—online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs. It harms everyone from struggling artists to production crews, and from startup social media companies to large movie studios. While we are strongly committed to the vigorous enforcement of intellectual property rights, existing tools are not strong enough to root out the worst online pirates beyond our borders.”

In the entire discussion, I’ve seen no discussion of credible evidence of this economic harm. There’s no question in my mind that piracy exists, that people around the world are enjoying creative content without paying for it, and even that some criminals are profiting by redistributing it. But is there actual economic harm?

In my experience at O’Reilly, the losses due to piracy are far outweighed by the benefits of the free flow of information, which makes the world richer, and develops new markets for legitimate content. Most of the people who are downloading unauthorized copies of O’Reilly books would never have paid us for them anyway; meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of others are buying content from us, many of them in countries that we were never able to do business with when our products were not available in digital form.

History shows us, again and again, that frontiers are lawless places, but that as they get richer and more settled, they join in the rule of law. American publishing, now the largest publishing industry in the world, began with piracy. (I have a post coming on that subject on Monday.)

Congress (and the White House) need to spend time thinking hard about how best to grow our economy – and that means being careful not to close off the frontier, or to harm those trying to settle it, in order to protect those who want to remain safe at home. British publishers could have come to America in the 19th century; they chose not to, and as a result, we grew our own indigenous publishing industry, which relied at first, in no small part, on pirating British and European works.

If the goal is really to support jobs and the American economy, internet “protectionism” is not the way to do it.

*The White House emailed me later in the morning to point out that the epetition response was posted on Saturday morning.

As SOPA comes to a vote, O.E.C.D. calls on members to defend Internet freedom

On Wednesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development called on its members to defend Internet freedoms. “It’s really a milestone in terms of making a statement about openness,” said Karen Kornbluh, the U.S. ambassador to the O.E.C.D., quoted by Eric Pfanner in the New York Times. “You can’t really get the innovation you need in terms of creating jobs unless we work together to protect the openness of the Internet.”

China and Russia come under some scrutiny for recent actions regarding their citizens and the Internet. For instance, distributed denial of service attacks were recently used in Russia in attempts to squelch online speech after the elections.

The United States of America, however, also has a serious Internet freedom issue on its collective hands, as people following the progress of the ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ (SOPA) through Congress know. If you’re unclear about the issues raised by the Stop Online Piracy Act, read my feature, “Congress considers anti-piracy bills that could cripple Internet industries,” or watch the video below, from the Cato Institute:

Cato Institute research fellow Sanchez asserts “that internet censorship won’t effectively address the problem of piracy and will threaten innovation and the liberties of Americans by engaging in unconstitutional prior restraint.” The video was produced by Caleb Brown, Austin Bragg and Julian Sanchez.

The key O.E.C.D. recommendation relevant to SOPA is the one that urges policy makers to “limit Internet intermediary liability.” If you don’t know what intermediary liability is, watch White House deputy CTO for Internet policy Danny Weitzner explain it at Radar. As Pfanner observed, President Barack Obama has yet to take a public position on SOPA or the PROTECT IP Act.

The House Judiciary Committee addressed some of the concerns raised about SOPA in the manager’s amendment of SOPA. Markup of the bill is scheduled for a hearing this Thursday morning. While some of the most controversial elements in the original bill have been edited (removal of a private right of actor, narrowed range of targets) the use of DNS and filtering as enforcement mechanisms remain. The EFF is not satisfied, stating that the manager’s amendment is “still a disaster.” <Public Knowledge and the Center for Democracy and Technology welcomes the revisions but retained serious concerns.

As Google anti-spam lead Matt Cutts recently pointed out, “some guy” also recently pointed out that SOPA is unconstitutional. The fellow in question happens to be Lawrence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, who released his opinion on SOPA online. “Under standard First Amendment scrutiny, both PROTECT IP & SOPA are clearly unconstitutional,” concurred Marvin Ammori.

What happens next is less clear. It’s unlikely that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would have brought SOPA up for markup unless he thought he had the votes to pass it on to the full House of Representatives.

The SOPA “manager’s amendment retains the fundamental flaws of its predecessor,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. . Issa told CNET that SOPA won’t be approved unless fixed.

Former Internet entrepreneur Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) went further, telling CNET that SOPA will “destroy the Internet as we know it.” According to Polis, his staffers haven’t received a single call asking them to pass SOPA, but had “hundreds against” it.”

Many prominent members of the Internet community have come out against SOPA. Thousands of people have added their faces to IWorkForTheInternet.org this week. Notably, earlier this week, Jimmy Wales asked Wikipedia if it should “strike” over SOPA. As of Monday night, about 75% of those responding to his straw poll supported the action. Wikimedia general counsel Geoff Brigham advised the Wikipedia community that SOPA will hurt the free Web and Wikipedia. As of today, we still don’t know whether the world’s biggest encyclopedia will protest tomorrow.

Will any of it make a difference to the eventual legislation or its passage? Stay tuned.

Al Gore, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee on Internet freedom and democracy [VIDEO]

Last month, Cory Doctorow talked with Al Gore, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee in Mexico City about privacy, freedom, neutrality and democracy in the context of the Internet and the Web. Shaky handheld video is embedded below — the audio is worth tuning in, however, even if the video is a bit jumpy.

Hat tip to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing, who writes:

We had a wide-ranging discussion, but kept circling back to the threats and promises for the net — copyright wars, privacy wars, government and grassroots. It was a lot of fun, and quite an honor, and I’m happy to see they’ve got the video online.

Social Security describes new online public credentialing and authentication process

In an announcement published in today’s Federal Register, the Social Security Administration requested comments and feedback on a proposed information collection method. Specifically, Social Security is exploring what the best way will be to identify citizens who who wish to access more electronic services benefit information online.

NextGov reported the driving need for this system yesterday: Social Security statements will go online …someday. According to Alan Lane, the agency’s associate chief information officer for open government, the agency has are no specific service plans at this time – nor is there a firm deadline for the statements going online. The Federal Register notice has much more detail and is quoted at length below.

Here’s some additional background, before you dive into the announcement below. For an agency like Social Security, taking careful steps into the Information Age isn’t just wise: it’s mandatory. The agency has enormous amounts of confidential data about American citizens. Rushing online holds considerable risks but carefully engaging there will be inevitable if Social Security is to embrace Gov 2.0.

In 2011, the Social Security Administration ranks as the largest government program by dollars paid in the United States federal government. It surpasses even discretionary defense and Medicare/Medicaid spending in the federal budget. As the 21st century dawns, new technology and a mandate for open government from the Obama administration provide an opportunity for the Social Security Administration to “reboot its relationship with the American people,” as its CIO, Frank Baitman, put it last last year.

Whether Social Security can better deliver on its mission through adopting social media, more data, better e-services and mobile technologies is an open question. Authentication and credentialing of citizens online is an important part of that progress. Online identity is a matter of plumbing, so to speak, but getting it right is no less important than real plumbing in a house.

Leaks are potentially catastrophic.

That’s why the United States national strategy for online identity is both complex and worth watching. Citizens and government alike need this to work if e-government services are to match their offline components. Getting this wrong would be disastrous, given the rise of identity theft across the nation.

Given how many more of those citizens will be retiring in the years ahead, providing e-services may not be a “nice-to-have” option. According to Social Security’s estimates, by 2036, there will be almost twice as many older Americans as today, from 41.9 million to 78.1 million. They’ll want to access their information online. Today, we learned a bit more about how the agency is thinking about getting there.

1. Social Security’s Public Credentialing and Authentication
Process–20 CFR 401.45–0960-NEW. Social Security is introducing a
stronger citizen authentication process that will enable a new user to
experience and access more electronic services.

Background:

Authentication is the foundation for secure, online transactions.
Identity authentication is the process of determining with confidence
that people are who they claim to be during a remote, automated
session. It comprises three distinct factors: something you know,
something you have, and something you are. Single-factor authentication uses one of
these factors, and multi-factor authentication uses two or more of
these factors.

SSA’s New Authentication Process:

Social Security’s new process features credential issuance, account
management, and single- and multi-factor authentication. With this
process, we are working toward offering consistent authentication
across Social Security’s secured online services, and eventually to
Social Security’s automated telephone services. We will allow our users
to maintain one User ID, consisting of a self-selected Username and
Password, to access multiple Social Security electronic services. This
new process: 1) enables the authentication of users of Social
Security’s sensitive electronic services, and 2) streamlines access to
those services.

Social Security is developing a new authentication strategy that
will:

G8: the Internet has become the public arena for our time

President Barack Obama and other world leaders walk to the first working session at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, May 26, 2011. Pictured, from left are: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso; President Obama; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; and British Prime Minister David Cameron. May 26, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama and other world leaders walk to the first working session at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, May 26, 2011. Pictured, from left are: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso; President Obama; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; and British Prime Minister David Cameron. May 26, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

At this year’s meeting of the “Group of 8” (G8) nations in France, a declaration about the Arab Spring included a “Deauville Partnership” with the people of the Middle East to support the growth of “democratic, open societies and inclusive economic modernisation.”

For the first time, the 2011 G-8 Summit included discussion of the Internet as a top-level issue, alongside the ongoing conflict in Libya, economic growth, nuclear safety, climate change, foreign aid and national security.

The G8 released an official communique that pledging renewed commitment for freedom and democracy that included a substantial section on the Internet. The communique included this summary of the principles discussed:

We discussed new issues such as the Internet which are essential to our societies, economies and growth. For citizens, the Internet is a unique information and education tool, and thus helps to promote freedom, democracy and human rights. The Internet facilitates new forms of business and promotes efficiency, competitiveness, and economic growth. Governments, the private sector, users, and other stakeholders all have a role to play in creating an environment in which the Internet can flourish in a balanced manner. In Deauville in 2011, for the first time at Leaders’ level, we agreed, in the presence of some leaders of the Internet economy, on a number of key principles, including freedom, respect for privacy and intellectual property, multi-stakeholder governance, cyber-security, and protection from crime, that underpin a strong and flourishing Internet. The “e-G8” event held in Paris on 24 and 25 May was a useful contribution to these debates.

That eG8 showed that online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders. Some of the concerns will be assuaged in this communique.

While the body of the communique is comprised of high level principles and does not contain specific prescriptions, it does not specifically reference to international human rights laws or a “freedom to connect,” an exception that supporters of free expression like Article 19 have criticized as unsufficient. In addition, paragraph 15, below, renews a “commitment to ensuring effective action against violations of intellectual property rights in the digital arena, including action that addresses present and future infringements” that may obliquely refer to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or “ACTA,” that the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others have expressed concerns about as it has moved through drafting stages.

That said, there is much in the official communique about the Internet that celebrates its power and choices that have driven its growth, including:

  • “The openness, transparency and freedom of the Internet have been key to its development and success. These principles, together with those of non-discrimination and fair competition, must continue to be an essential force behind its development.”
  • “The Internet has become the public arena for our time, a lever of economic development and an instrument for political liberty and emancipation. Freedom of opinion, expression, information, assembly and association must be safeguarded on the Internet as elsewhere. Arbitrary or indiscriminate censorship or restrictions on access to the Internet are inconsistent with States’ international obligations and are clearly unacceptable. Furthermore, they impede economic and social growth.

Coming on a week when Iran vowed to unplug the Internet, disconnecting Iranian citizens from the rest of the world, holding up those principles is both timely and notable. The full section of the communique regarding the Internet follows.

II. INTERNET

4. All over the world, the Internet has become essential to our societies, economies and their growth.

5. For citizens, the Internet is a unique information and education resource and thus can be a helpful tool to promote freedom, democracy and human rights.

6. For business, the Internet has become an essential and irreplaceable tool for the conduct of commerce and development of relations with consumers. The Internet is a driver of innovation, improves efficiency, and thus contributes to growth and employment.

7. For governments, the Internet is a tool for a more efficient administration, for the provision of services to the public and businesses, and for enhancing their relations with citizens and ensuring respect for and promotion of human rights.

8. The Internet has become a major driver for the global economy, its growth and innovation.

9. The openness, transparency and freedom of the Internet have been key to its development and success. These principles, together with those of non-discrimination and fair competition, must continue to be an essential force behind its development.

10. Their implementation must be included in a broader framework: that of respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, the protection of intellectual property rights, which inspire life in every democratic society for the benefit of all citizens. We strongly believe that freedom and security, transparency and respect for confidentiality, as well as the exercise of individual rights and responsibility have to be achieved simultaneously. Both the framework and principles must receive the same protection, with the same guarantees, on the Internet as everywhere else.

11. The Internet has become the public arena for our time, a lever of economic development and an instrument for political liberty and emancipation. Freedom of opinion, expression, information, assembly and association must be safeguarded on the Internet as elsewhere. Arbitrary or indiscriminate censorship or restrictions on access to the Internet are inconsistent with States’ international obligations and are clearly unacceptable. Furthermore, they impede economic and social growth.

12. The Internet and its future development, fostered by private sector initiatives and investments, require a favourable, transparent, stable and predictable environment, based on the framework and principles referred to above. In this respect, action from all governments is needed through national policies, but also through the promotion of international cooperation.

13. We commit to encourage the use of the Internet as a tool to advance human rights and democratic participation throughout the world.

14. The global digital economy has served as a powerful economic driver and engine of growth and innovation. Broadband Internet access is an essential infrastructure for participation in today’s economy. In order for our countries to benefit fully from the digital economy, we need to seize emerging opportunities, such as cloud computing, social networking and citizen publications, which are driving innovation and enabling growth in our societies. As we adopt more innovative Internet-based services, we face challenges in promoting interoperability and convergence among our public policies on issues such as the protection of personal data, net neutrality, transborder data flow, ICT security, and intellectual property.

15. With regard to the protection of intellectual property, in particular copyright, trademarks, trade secrets and patents, we recognize the need to have national laws and frameworks for improved enforcement. We are thus renewing our commitment to ensuring effective action against violations of intellectual property rights in the digital arena, including action that addresses present and future infringements. We recognize that the effective implementation of intellectual property rules requires suitable international cooperation of relevant stakeholders, including with the private sector. We are committed to identifying ways of facilitating greater access and openness to knowledge, education and culture, including by encouraging continued innovation in legal on line trade in goods and content, that are respectful of intellectual property rights.

16. The effective protection of personal data and individual privacy on the Internet is essential to earn users’ trust. It is a matter for all stakeholders: the users who need to be better aware of their responsibility when placing personal data on the Internet, the service providers who store and process this data, and governments and regulators who must ensure the effectiveness of this protection. We encourage the development of common approaches taking into account national legal frameworks, based on fundamental rights and that protect personal data, whilst allowing the legal transfer of data.

17. The security of networks and services on the Internet is a multi-stakeholder issue. It requires coordination between governments, regional and international organizations, the private sector, civil society and the G8’s own work in the Roma-Lyon group, to prevent, deter and punish the use of ICTs for terrorist and criminal purposes. Special attention must be paid to all forms of attacks against the integrity of infrastructure, networks and services, including attacks caused by the proliferation of malware and the activities of botnets through the Internet. In this regard, we recognize that promoting users’ awareness is of crucial importance and that enhanced international cooperation is needed in order to protect critical resources, ICTs and other related infrastructure. The fact that the Internet can potentially be used for purposes that are inconsistent with the objectives of peace and security, and may adversely affect the integrity of critical systems, remains a matter of concern. Governments have a role to play, informed by a full range of stakeholders, in helping to develop norms of behaviour and common approaches in the use of cyberspace. On all these issues, we are determined to provide the appropriate follow-up in all relevant fora.

18. We call upon all stakeholders to combat the use of Internet for trafficking in children and for their sexual exploitation. We will also work towards developing an environment in which children can safely use the Internet by improving children’s Internet literacy including risk awareness, and encouraging adequate parental controls consistent with the freedom of expression.

19. We recognize the importance of enhanced access to the Internet for developing countries. Important progress has been achieved since the Okinawa Summit and we pay tribute to the efforts made by developing countries in this regard as well as the various stakeholders, governments, the private sector and NGOs, which provide resources, expertise and innovation. We encourage initiatives, in partnership with the private sector, on the use of the Internet with a development purpose, particularly for education and healthcare.

20. As we support the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance, we call upon all stakeholders to contribute to enhanced cooperation within and between all international fora dealing with the governance of the Internet. In this regard, flexibility and transparency have to be maintained in order to adapt to the fast pace of technological and business developments and uses. Governments have a key role to play in this model.

21. We welcome the meeting of the e-G8 Forum which took place in Paris on 24 and 25 May, on the eve of our Summit and reaffirm our commitment to the kinds of multi-stakeholder efforts that have been essential to the evolution of the Internet economy to date. The innovative format of the e-G8 Forum allowed participation of a number of stakeholders of the Internet in a discussion on fundamental goals and issues for citizens, business, and governments. Its free and fruitful debate is a contribution for all relevant fora on current and future challenges.

22. We look forward to the forthcoming opportunities to strengthen international cooperation in all these areas, including the Internet Governance Forum scheduled next September in Nairobi and other relevant UN events, the OECD High Level Meeting on “The Internet Economy: Generating Innovation and Growth” scheduled next June in Paris, the London International Cyber Conference scheduled next November, and the Avignon Conference on Copyright scheduled next November, as positive steps in taking this important issue forward.

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