Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

Posts Tagged ‘surveillance

Freedom of expression in a Web 2.0 world; Future is not all positive – new tools have limited impact where controls are in place

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The Internet Governance Forum-USA workshop on “The Freedom of Expression in a Web 2.0 World,” was built to assess the whole idea of Web 2.0, and the tangent that the panel took grew increasingly bleak in outlining the limitations of new Internet technologies. They said Web 2.0 isn’t all roses. It’s not a park that simultaneously serves as a playground and the ultimate conduit of democracy, it won’t single-handedly save the world and it won’t always be used to better the lives of citizens in the U.S. or abroad.

Rebecca MacKinnon, a co-founder of Global Voices, assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong and previous CNN bureau chief in Beijing, was particularly stern in extinguishing the optimism that emerged during the summer as a result of the contested Iranian election and the subsequent temporary uprising that was partially fed by social media, especially Twitter.

“There’s a naivete that capitalism plus Internet plus Twitter equals democratization,” MacKinnon said, later adding that democracy isn’t inherently going to spread just by handing software to dissidents.

MacKinnon’s extensive experiences with the Chinese government’s attitude toward the Internet provided a stark paralell to the stated goals of President Barack Obama’s administration, voiced at the IGF by Miriam Nisbet, the first director of the Office of Governmental Information Services.

“It’s rather extraordinary that he spent the first full day in office by issuing memoranda…dealing with the openness of government,” Nisbet said. She next quoted Obama: “All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their government.”

While the stated aim of the U.S. government is to utilize Web 2.0 to open up the government for its citizens, MacKinnon was quick to point out that the Chinese model, which is being increasingly adopted by similarly authoritarian regimes, is built more upon the idea of modern technology helping the government inform itself about its citizens, opening them up to the keen eyes of governmental watchdogs.

In some cases, these crackdowns can be justified. Ambassador David Gross, now a partner at Wiley Rein LLP, leveraged his 25 years of experience in politics and ICTs in the discussion. He told of his experience in trying to encourage a policy of liberalized Internet use to a Tunisian deputy foreign minister. The minister justified his country’s forced limitations on online expression as an extension of the government’s responsibility to protect its people by maintaining social cohesion in a country built up of incredibly factitious factions perfectly willing to fight each other, fights that the Tunisian government asserts would be stoked by open Internet communication.

Robert Guerra, the project director on Internet freedom at Freedom House, roped government surveillance into the increasingly mobile nature of Internet access, particularly in least-developed countries, pointing out that cell phones, by their nature and taking the complicity of the telecommunications industry in conceding to governmental interests for granted, are perfect for authoritarian governments to spy on their citizens. By triangulating a phone’s location, or by utilizing its speakers, receivers and text messages, governments can immediately drop in on any sort of communication deemed to be seditious.

It was agreed that while Web 2.0 has made progress, said progress can largely be credited not to the inherent power of the technology of Web 2.0, but of the lagging pace at which most authoritarian governments have approached the technology, falling behind the counter-culture movement in exploiting the Internet for its own aims.

There’s a reason, MacKinnon said, that China is currently offering to build the Internet infrastructure for several authoritarian countries, because China knows exactly how to receive the economic benefits of increasingly widespread Internet access without suffering the open scrutiny of governments and businesses that one would naturally think would result in concert with an expansion of communications technologies.

Ultimately – running counter to the long-winded, expansive rhetoric that often takes place in discussion panels dealing with governmental policy and communicative ideology – the most apt description of the Web 2.0 element of the world came from Bob Boorstin, director of corporate policy communications at Google, and previous chief speechwriter during President Bill Clinton’s administration.

“These are just tools, and they’re nothing more than that,” Boorstin said, indicating that no matter how many bells or whistles, tweets or status updates we may have, the censorship and free expression citizens endure or desire is ultimately up to their own actions and persistence.

-Morgan Little, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org

Response from Lee McKnight, Wireless Grids, to Lee Rainie’s ‘What We Don’t Know About the Future of the Internet’

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Lee_McKnight_Associate_Professor.JPGLee McKnight spoke to the conference remotely, by audio. He noted that this week’s announcement about the U.S. government’s recent decision about how it relates to ICANN is extremely important. “It’s impressive to see some things moving at Internet speed,” he said. “I want to highlight that while this is a first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum-USA, it is a historic day both for that and because of the announcement from NTIA and ICANN in relation to internationalization of the oversight of ICANN. It is a particularly poignant time for us to be coming together.”

He asked the audience to think back a few decades to the days when the Internet was not yet an infrastructure used for commerce, politics and general social interaction. “There was at least a glimmer in Vint Cerf’s eye about where things and how things might evolve, and the Internet Society was created,” he recalled. “I have witnessed and have been fortunate to have played a small part in many new organizations that have come along over time.”

He noted that the Caribbean Internet Forum – a multistakeholder group – has been meeting since 2002. “You can learn from them how to grow the US Internet Governance Forum, which has been sort of a late-comer,” he said. “I want to highlight the value and centrality of the multistakeholder model for global governance in general, and how policy can be made in a flexible manner.”

He noted that there are now many advances being made in the development of personal wireless grids.

The future of the Internet is not the Internet as we think of it now. What I mean is that we are focusing now on the network infrastructure level, which is absolutely central and critical, but where people live is in a world of devices, digital machines around them that are on and off the Internet. They are on mobile devices, on TVs, computers, printers, everywhere around them, and this Internet of things – or all those things and the Internet are merging through mobile and wireless connectivity. This new capability of creating essentially a personal cyberstructure, a personal cloud of your machines, your devices, your content, associated with you through your known identity and trust, securely, is something I have been working on for seven or eight years, and it’s still in its mid- to early days.  – Lee McKnight

McKnight shared briefly about his work with the testing and rollout of personal wireless grids. He noted that in the next few years the Wireless Grid Innovation Testbed, or WIDGIT, will release new technologies for trial, first through universities including Virginia Tech and Syracuse and later to end-users.

He said this could alter the horizon for concerns over privacy and other issues.

“This offers a new capability of creating a personal, trusted, community of your own machines, your own devices, your own friends, across mobile and wireless devices,” he said. “As this comes into the marketplace and enhances user experience, I expect some of these trust and identity issues that are so challenging at the scale of the whole Internet will be addressed. In this personal world, this future architecture is not about securing the entire Internet, it’s about trusting your friends and your friends’ machines.”

– Janna Anderson, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org

What We Don’t Know About the Future of the Internet – Part I

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2 lee_rainieLee Rainie, Pew Internet & American Life Project:

When Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, was invited to be a keynote speaker to set the tone for the first-ever Internet Governance Forum-USA, he was asked to talk about “emerging issues” online.

He wisely chose the title “What We Don’t Know About the Future of the Internet.” His leadership in studying the impact of the Internet for the Pew Research Center for the past decade or so has put him in perfect position to address the topic.

Rainie described four areas of “critical uncertainty whose resolution will shape the future of the Internet” in ways we cannot yet fully foresee:

1) The unknowns tied to the future structure of the Internet’s architecture and how it is shaped by its adoption.

2) The unknowns presented by complexities in the future of information policy (he singled out “the kind of rules we develop about information property such as copyright, patents and trademarks” and other property issues).

3) The unknowns tied to the policies and norms we might develop to deal with our online identities – how we deal tackle issues like online privacy, anonymity and surveillance.

4) The unknown social, political and economic impact of the Internet. “The social science community is just beginning to tackle issues related to the value of the Internet – both good and bad – in empirical terms,” he said.

Rainie said some aspects of the future of the Internet are fairly predictable. “In the next decade the computing power at our disposal will be more than 20 times greater than it is now and considerably cheaper if Moore’s law continues to hold,” he explained.

He noted data storage capabilities will be improved. He talked about ubiquitous wireless communications involving smart devices built into our environment – including our clothes, our architecture, our vehicles and our homes.

Chips embedded in our cars, our household furnishing, even the soil, will feed data to each other and help us figure out how to skirt traffic jams, when to water our flower beds and even when the pizza delivery van has pulled up to our house.  – Lee Rainie

-Janna Anderson, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org

Written by andersj

October 2, 2009 at 1:21 pm