Going forwards backwards

Observations on the final plenary session, Emerging Issues, at the 2007 Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

I entered this session wanting to catch the six or so presenters that had not had the opportunity to present their summaries in the stock-take before lunch. So, it was with some regret that I left at the end of Emerging Issues that we would not hear Karen’s summary remarks and reflections. However, I did stay long enough to catch some important debates.

This summary report covers only those emerging issues of specific interest to me (read, that which I could comprehend and take stock of).

Digital spectrum

As I’d entered a debate on digital spectrum issues was just wrapping up… despite not having an opportunity to gain a full understanding of the issues presented (will refer to the transcripts when available) I was able to glean at least two significant points:

  • digital spectrum allocation and internet bandwidth IS a rapidly emerging issue, particularly due in part to the infrastructure requirements to support Web 2.0 applications
  • exclusions within the digital spectrum (eg. Australian community television sector) was not discussed as it was assumed that the broad capacity of this spectrum was sufficient to warrant access for all.

Anonymity

Author and Web 2.0 critic, Andrew Keen, rounded off his well executed polemic warned that the anonymity of the internet does not create collaboration, community, but rather, corrodes it.

A debate then followed on the pros and cons of anonymity, much of which I would recommend one takes the time to find on the video archives. There are some excellent responses from Vint Cert, a representative from Amnesty and others from the floor.

All things considered, and despite the fact that all parties agreed that anonymity was invaluable in protecting the identity of advocates of free speech in countries where such practices are denied, it occurred to me that whilst this debate progresses and the issues discussed from one IGF to the next, laws inhibiting anonymity are being enshrined in countries such as South Korea and Japan. The Internet Real Name Law, for example, could set precedents that other countries may follow whilst the IGF deliberates over emerging issues despite the experimental and perhaps revolutionary nature of its very existence (will write about this point in another article).

It should be noted that as I was forming my intervention about threats to South Korean internet rights, Utzumi took the floor and gave the example of the Real Name Law. At the outset he pointed out that it could lead to frightening consequences, but he made it clear that there was “good news” about this law given the the South Korean government will allow all names to be published on the web thereby demonstrating transparency!

I believe it is the fact that people require anonymity when critiquing the government (the Real Name Law was originally imposed during elections) that has seen Jinbonet in court for opposing the the implementation of instruments to record the true identities of bloggers, comments authors, etc.

Keen had also stated that the internet does not encourage, but undermines democratic processes, that it is a space where democracy is promised by a small number of actors, an online oligarchy (eg. Wikipedia, Yahoo, Google) that marginalizes the cultural classes.

Again, the South Korean situation was given the floor. The South Korean government is introducing measures to inhibit free speech on the internet because of its power as a tool for democratizing its citizenry. South Koreans are perhaps the most adept at having created and sustained democratic principles via the internet.

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