The Public Voice in the Development of Internet Policy: Proceedings from Ottawa Global Internet Liberty Campaign Conference, October 1998
Since the Internet became more user friendly and more easily available in the developed countries around the globe, the process for establishing rules and how to govern this new borderless medium started in all fronts. Apart from regulatory initiatives within different nation-states by the governments, policy initiatives and discussions are also taking place in international foras. These include policy initiatives within the European Union and the OECD and discussions within the United Nations.
Apart from the official voices and official discussions taken place, the Internet related NGO movement have been involved within all fronts with Internet related policy issues. The Global Internet Liberty Campaign ('GILC') and its members have been busy since 1996 advising governments and international bodies on Internet related issues.
Since recently, the GILC started to help the public voice raised and heard in the development of Internet policy more actively and openly with a series of reports produced and conferences organised. This paper will describe the latest GILC conference organised in Ottawa in October 1998.
The Global Internet Liberty Campaign ('GILC') is an international coalition of more than 50 civil liberties, and human rights organisations from around the world. GILC is a unique international group formed specifically to address the interests of citizens and consumers in the on-line world. The Global Internet Liberty Campaign was formed at the annual meeting of the Internet Society in Montreal, in June 1996 largely at the initiative of the American Civil Liberties Union ('ACLU') and the Electronic Privacy Information Center ('EPIC'). Other members of the coalition include the Human Rights Watch, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, Electronic Frontiers Australia, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK), and other civil liberties and human rights organisations from around the world.
Global Internet Liberty Campaign Conference, 'The Public Voice in the Development of Internet Policy,' took place in Ottawa, on October 7, 1998, the day before the OECD Ministerial Conference.
The GILC conference in Ottawa was formally opened by the Canadian Minister of Industry Mr John Manley[ 1] following welcome messages by Marc Rotenberg, the director the Electronic Privacy Information Center ('EPIC') in Washington and Marie Vall?e, of the Federation Nationale des Associations de Consommateurs du Quebec. Rotenberg highlighted the importance and presence of the GILC conference a day before the OECD Ottawa Ministerial conference. Rotenberg stated that:
'We believe that successful policies for the Internet must include the voices of consumers and citizens. We welcome Mr. Manley and appreciate his efforts to promote this exchange.'
Ms Marie Vall?e, stated that:
'It is a very good opportunity and at a key moment, for consumer groups and other NGOs to discuss and be able to articulate common objectives in order to better protect consumers and citizens in this rapidly changing environment.'
Mr John Manley in his opening remarks said he is delighted to be at the GILC conference and welcomed the attendees in his constituency in Ottawa. According to Manley the OECD for the first time holds a Ministerial meeting outside Paris and Manley stated that business, regulators and NGOs will have an opportunity to discuss important matters on electronic commerce during the OECD Ministerial Conference.
There needs to be a co-operation between various parties on Internet related issues emphasised Manley's speech. General laws of the land do apply to the Internet and Manley believes that there is no need for the further regulation of the Internet. Just because the Internet is a new medium does not mean that it needs new regulations and the currently available laws such as those Canadians are adopted to deal with the Internet. Although Manley stated that he shares the Canadian citizens concerns about the Internet content.
'Building trust in the Information age is important' and security, privacy and consumer protection are on the agenda during the OECD Ministerial conference. Another important issue is the development of a global marketplace for e-commerce. E-commerce begins with global transactions on a medium which does not recognise any borders. Therefore taxation is one of the key issues to be dealt during the OECD meeting in Ottawa.
What roles are to play for business and regulators questioned Manley. Access to the Internet, and privacy are very important issues to be dealt and therefore it is very important to include the voices of NGOs. According to Manley, the GILC is the first of its kind and the GILC conference presents an excellent opportunity to bring diverse public interest groups together in a structured forum to discuss the development of global policy for electronic commerce.'
According to Manley, the GILC concerns have been heard by the OECD ministers and there is a link between the two conferences and the OECD conference should benefit from a diversity of voices regardless of frontiers. In his conclusion Mr Manley emphasised the importance of a global village and showed his desire to have a cyber-marketplace which is available to wealthy and poor.
'We gather from many countries to develop e-commerce in the global village. Our challenge is much broader today. Access to the Internet should be available to all and at a stage where half of the world population did not make a telephone call, this remains a very important challenge for consumers and suppliers.'
Ms Deborah Hurley of the Information Infrastructure Project, Harvard University introduced Mr David Johnston former chairman, Information Highway Advisory Council ('IHAC'), Canada. Mr Johnston said he was pleased with Mr Manley's speech and welcomed the diversity that the GILC conference brings. 'Change, choice and challenge' are the important words in the information age said Mr Johnston.
According to Mr Johnston the information revolution provides us with a new set of tools and in long distance communication we witness the death of distance. Mr Johnston questioned how to find an appropriate balance within the society and dealt in his paper with the issues of accessibility, learning, innovation, the role of trust, privacy and security, content and health.
Information highway should be as accessible as possible like telephone and television sets. The connection to the Internet is one step and the next step is get into the schools and classrooms. Recycling computers would help as 4-5 years old computers are perfectly capable of helping this to achieve. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to develop content for school children 'to exercise their critical thinking'. According to Mr Johnston 'we need to establish an environment where innovation can thrive, which recognises that ideas and innovation are keys to wealth creation and institutional adoption, where change is not feared and strangled.' Also governments are challenged to adopt themselves in the information age and better understanding of the new technologies are needed.
Canadian law is based on both the civil and common law and 'civil law jurisdictions have long seen individual privacy as a fundamental right. Sensible solutions are needed for privacy and security in the information age. The gaps can be filled with self-regulatory solutions in the private sphere said Mr Johnston. But there are still 'plenty of businesses who are not prepared to play by these voluntary rules or there are those who exploit the gaps.' Trust is therefore 'at the base of law reform to deal with electronic commerce' said Mr Johnston.
This panel on consumer protection in electronic commerce was chaired by Karen Coyle, Western Regional Director, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. Ms Coyle questioned where the traditional consumer protections apply within the electronic commerce environment and how does the consumer issue emerge in the information age.
Louise Sylvan, Vice President of Consumers' International and Chief Executive of the Australian Consumers' Association[ 2] was the first speaker and her paper was entitled 'Consumer Protection in E-Commerce' which dealt with consumers in business and commercial terms. The principles come from an Australian paperdeveloped by the National Council in Australia in April 1998 in collaboration with the government, business and consumers together. There are 12 principles within this paper and Ms Sylvan dealt with the most important ones.
At least same levels of consumer protection is needed whether in real life transactions or cyber-transactions according to Ms Sylvan. Moreover, technology neutrality is important and technology makes the difference for e-commerce. Laws should apply irrespective of the technology used for transactions in e-commerce. Of course these involve complicated jurisdictional issues and these need to be resolved said Ms Sylvan.
Identification of the seller and jurisdiction is another important issue to be dealt and the WWW site's URL is not enough to resolve this. The amount of information to be provided and disclosed to the consumers by the sellers is a critical point to be resolved. Clarity is another contract issue and the contracts and terms and conditions should be presented in clear and easy ways. Confirmation is important for consumers and authentication of consumer identity is needed and if necessary consumers should have the possibility to remain anonymous. Payment options need to be clear according to Ms Sylvan and dispute resolutions should be available to consumers. These need to be quick and fair and sellers need to refer to these procedures in their web pages.
According to Ms Sylvan the [forthcoming] OECD Guidelines in Ottawa is in state of flux and Ms Sylvan was critical of the forthcoming and non binding OECD principles. '1st draft okay, 'gutted'2nd draft,' said Ms Sylvan on the OECD guidelines.
Nathalie St-Pierre, presented her paper, 'The Electronic Market Place: Factors Affecting E-Commerce,' based on a study by the Information Highway and Canadian Communications Household Study ('EKOS'). The factors affecting electronic commerce, namely: prices, privacy, reputation, security, proximity, nationality and the role of the government.
Security is far the most important issue for the development of e-commerce said Ms St-Pierre. Location and the physical location is a considerable issue for consumers. Nationality was another concern and the statistics of the study indicate that Canadian consumers preferred to buy from Canadians rather than Americans! Therefore, where does the government stand and what is its role with respect to consumer protection? According to the survey this is mainly a role for the government (66%) rather than the industry (31%). Government should provide the basis for security and consumer protection rather than the industry.
In her conclusion 'no principle should be interpreted as affording less protection to consumers than is already provided for in current laws' said Ms St-Pierre. 'Adaptable framework of consumer protection subject to ongoing review and modifications in light of changing technologies and marketplaces' are needed.
Phillip McKee, National Consumer's League, USA mentioned the work of the Internet Fraud Watch[ 3] and said that 'one of the many threats facing consumers today is fraud.' Therefore, the main fraud related issue are 'web auctions' (items bid for but never delivered by the sellers, value of items inflated, shills suspected of driving up bids), 'general merchandise' (sales of everything from T-shirts to toys, calendars and collectibles, goods never delivered or not as advertised), followed by 'Internet services' (charges for services that were supposedly free, payment for online and Internet services that were never provided or falsely represented) and these are the three most subject reports to the IFW of the NCL. Consumers are offered these fraudulent services mainly by e-mail. Mr McKee asked the attendees whether they ever heard any refunds from a foreign country? Another question raised by Mr McKee was where is the consumer protection going in the information age.
Security with privacy is the main concern and issue for consumers according to Bjorn Erik Thon, Consumer Council of Norway. Moreover, these are absolutely crucial issues to be resolved. There is a need to create a secure environment for the development of e-commerce. But consumer organisations do not have the funding and expertise to do that. But it is important that consumers organisations at an international level start to work together on these issues. Another important issue is complaint handling according to Mr Thon and this is one of the issues that his organisation in Norway is dealing with. How can we build confidence said Mr Thon and work is under way to achieve this goal within Norway.
Benoit De Nayer of the Centre de droit de la consummation, Belgium explained the work of his organisation and said that they are working with issues related to the regulatory environment for consumers for electronic commerce. New electronic commerce is more clever and intelligent as all can be done through the same wire, e.g. advertisement, contract and purchase of goods. De Nayer said in his final remarks that the general requirements for consumer protection is still needed but there may be space for the development of new solutions for e-commerce such as digital signatures.
In conclusion the informative panel showed that the issues within different jurisdictions remain the same and solutions need rather global response as the Internet remains a communication medium without any frontiers. More questions were raised rather than offering many solutions which deserve global attention. One thing is certain and that is the protection of consumers in cyberspace whether they are in Australia, Norway, Canada, USA or Belgium.
Mr Barry Steinhardt, representing both the ACLU and EFF said that two important issues will be explored with this second panel. First issue involves the access issues: In many countries, there are barriers to access to infrastructure and information. How will universal access and pricing work in the electronic environment? Second, as equally as important issue involves freedom of speech on the Internet as the Internet raises free speech issues on a global level. Issues covered will include filters and rating systems, the European Union efforts on combating materials 'harmful to minors' and the aftermath of the Reno v. ACLU decision.
Firstly, Mr Shniad and Ms Lawson dealt with the access issues. Sid Shniad, is the Research Director for the Telecommunications Workers Union and he presented his paper entitled 'Rhetoric Versus Reality: Deregulation and Access to Electronic Communications Services. Mr Shnaid reminded the audience that 'it is sometimes forgotten that many programs and services which we take for granted developed in a non-government regulated environment.'
'Today, the Information Highway is being promoted as the cure for a range of social and economic ills. Access is acknowledged as the key to maximising the technology's positive social potential. But deregulation has put many subscribers to basic telecommunications services in a position where they can no longer afford basic telephone services - the essential element in subscribers' ability to access the Internet from their homes.'
According to Mr Shnaid, 'it is either naive or disingenuous of policy makers to express concern about issues like access and affordability while promoting the deregulation of the industry, since it is deregulation which has enabled phone companies to raise the prices they charge for basic services while cutting back on the very resources needed to provide access.'
In conclusion, the deregulated market can no more provide us with universal, affordable access to electronic communications services than it can be a source of stability in the world's financial markets. If we are serious about providing access to electronic communications on a universal, affordable basis, governments must create a regulatory framework that is equal to the task, one which obliges corporations in the telecommunications sector to meet our social and economic needs.
Funding for various programs to deal with the issue of access in Canada is unfortunately ad hoc in nature and is unlikely to be sustained over time concluded Mr Shnaid.
Philippa Lawson, of the Public Interest Advocacy Centerwas the second speaker on the access issue and her paper was entitled 'Achieving Universal Access to the Information Highway.' According to Ms Lawson's paper 'universal access to the information highway is one of those things that cannot be achieved without government intervention and market forces just can't do it.' 'Indeed, market forces barely exist in some of the places where access is most needed,' said Ms Lawson.
The paper highlighted that there is a need for affordable services to low income Canadians. In Canada, almost everyone agrees that in the absence of direct government intervention, some kind of regulated subsidy is necessary in order to maintain universal access to basic telecommunications services. Currently, the Canadian government is working hard to spread Internet access points across the country, and to encourage Canadians of all ages and backgrounds to use the Internet for personal and business gain. Yet, only 28% of Canadians have Internet access and accounts.
So, how do we improve this situation asked Ms Lawson. The effective approach in her belief is a multi-pronged one which consists of competition in which the role of the government is pivotal; the use of regulation to address systematic market inadequacies; provide direct financial and other support to establish public access points in communities, schools, and libraries, and to train citizens in Internet usage. Moreover, support for the not-for-profit community networking is needed.
'If electronic democracy is to be realised, we must protect public space on the Internet, space that is unsullied by commercial interests and that permits the free flow of individual ideas and communications,' said Ms Lawson before highlighting the fact that 'a truly democratic cyberspace is one to which everyone has access. The right to free speech on the Internet is one thing, but it's pretty hollow for those who lack access to the medium in which this free expression can occur.'
Yaman Akdeniz, director of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties(UK) presented his paper entitled 'CyberCensors: The Development of Rating & Filtering Systems in Europe,' which described the development of rating and filtering systems for Internet content within the United Kingdom and the European Union. The paper follows from the two recent 'Who Watches the Watchmen reports' that the Leeds based organisation produced.
According to Akdeniz, 'these new technologies are introduced and presented as a means to avoid heavy handed public regulation of Internet content by governments but there are many problems, however, associated with rating and filtering systems.' Akdeniz stated that, 'Despite the popular perception, rating and filtering systems do not really provide a 'safer Internet' for concerned users and consumers.' The paper explained several problems associated with this kind of technology - that the current technology is limited and censorious; that third party systems pose free speech concerns; that children are not the only Internet users; and finally these defective systems provide only a false sense of security for concerned users and parents.
'CyberCensors: The development of Rating & Filtering Systems in Europe,' paper in its conclusion sent a stern warning to regulators in Europe and elsewhere:
'When censorship is implemented by government threat in the background, but run by private parties, legal action is nearly impossible, accountability difficult, and the system is not open or democratic. With rating systems and the moral panic surrounding Internet content, the Internet could be transformed into a 'family friendly' medium, no more adventurous than the likes of the BBC. Thus, a situation of 'Disney Dilemma' will be witnessed, where only anodyne Internet content, probably generated by international media corporations, will be allowed to circulate. The chance to create a virtual market-place of ideas, including the challenging and offensive, will be lost.'
The paper's message to parents was to be responsible and not censors. 'Educate your children rather than placing your trust in technology or in an industry that believes it can do a better job of protecting children than parents.'
Rigo Wenning, of F"rderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschafthighlighted the Internet related developments within Germany in his paper and these included discussion on privacy and data protection laws. Moreover, Mr Wenning explained the pressures that the ISPs face in Germany and explained the Felix Somm prosecution involving CompuServe in Germany. According to Wenning national laws might not be effective to deal with international content which is created outside the German borders. The target should remain as the authors and not the recipients according to Wenning.
Wenning who is also associated with the Institute of Computing and Law at the University of Saarland, highlighted the problems associated with filtering and rating systems and explained the audience of a German prosecutor in Flensburg decided to take action against the special prosecutor Starr in the US Senate for distribution of pornographic content over the Internet with the release of his report involving President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.[ 4]
Meryem Marzouki, board member and legal representative of France based Imaginons un Reseau Internet Soldaireconcentrated on her organisation's comments on the recently published French Conseil d'Etat report on Internet and digital networks. Some advances and good recommendations mainly on cryptography were made by the Conseil d'Etat.[ 5] But Ms Marzouki stated that:
'the new proposals for a so called self-regulatory body by the Conseil d'Etat could only lead to privatised censorship of the Internet by industry based companies and bodies.'
According to Ms Marzouki, the newly proposed self-regulatory hotline for the protection of minors and human dignity asks the content provider, or even the ISPs to remove 'objectional content' and reports to the police the actions taken. It has the power to file a case if no 'appropriate action' is taken and this would result with private policing of the Internet and also would create unnecessary pressures on both content providers and ISPs.
The last panellist of this session was James X. Dempsey, senior staff counsel of the US-based Center for Democracy and Technology, a GILC member, and one of the main authors of a recent GILC report, entitled 'Regardless of Frontiers: Protecting the Human Right to Freedom of Expression on the Global Internet.'
'Regardless of Frontiers: Protecting the Human Right to Freedom of Expression on the Global Internet,' was launched during another GILC conference, 'Outlook for Freedom, Privacy, and Civil Society on the Internet in Central and Eastern Europe,' in Budapest in September 1998 calling for strong protection of free speech on the Internet under international human rights law.
Release of the report coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaimed that everyone has the right to 'seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers' according to Dempsey of the CDT. Given the Internet's uniquely open, global, decentralised and user-controlled nature, this guarantee should be read as offering especially strong protection to freedom of expression on-line, GILC's report concluded.
James Dempsey, also stated that:
'The Internet can serve as the fulcrum for expansion of free expression principles world wide. To governments, our message is, 'Don't try to censor the Internet because your efforts will not only be futile, they may well violate international human rights law, especially given the unique nature of the Internet.' Internet activists should take advantage of the international and regional human rights documents, for they offer strong grounds for challenging Internet censorship. Both governments and supporters of free expression need to pay attention to the Internet's unique qualities, for they justify the strongest legal protection.'
According to James Dempsey, the GILC report, 'Regardless of Frontiers: Protecting the Human Right to Freedom of Expression on the Global Internet,' notes that governments from the US to China have already begun to impose controls on the Internet, threatening the potential of this new medium. But an increasingly well-established body of international law protects the right to freedom of expression.
Access and free speech remain two of the far most important policy issues together with the privacy issue that will be discussed later at this conference. These issues are as important as the development of e-commerce on the Internet and deserve more consideration by the regulators starting with the OECD Ministerial Conference in Ottawa.
Stephen Lau, Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data of Hong Kong delivered a paper entitled 'Electronic Commerce, Consumer Rights and Data Privacy,' during the lunch break of the GILC conference. Lau said that 'electronic commerce is international,' and therefore the regulatory framework should also be consistent across borders. Lau's paper concluded that:
'Multi-lateral agreements through international bodies like UNCTAD, WTO, EU, OECD, APEC and others, as well as bilateral agreements between countries should be reached to protect consumers in the global electronic market and allow businesses to trade and compete on a fair, open and secure basis.'
Ms Hurley the moderator of this session said that privacy online is tied with real life of privacy. Technology is facilitating the desire to eavesdrop on communications but we do not want usual day life communications to be heard all the time. Ms Hurley is also involved with providing NGO participation to the OECD Ministerial conference which will take place in Ottawa following today's GILC conference.
The aim of this panel was to explore how will privacy be protected online? This panel therefore, discussed the EU Data Protection Directive, the Wassanaar Arrangement, and other international and national encryption and privacy policies.
David Banisar, Policy Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center, launched a new report which he is one of the primary authors. The report is a Global Internet Liberty Campaign publication and entitled 'Privacy and Human Rights: An International Survey of Privacy Laws and Practice,' (October 1998) written by Privacy International with a grant provided by the Open Society Institute.
Banisar stated that the new Privacy and Human Rights report follows from an earlier GILC report entitled 'Cryptography and Liberty: An International Survey of Encryption Policy(Washington DC, February 1998).
Banisar, coming from an insignificant small country called the USA with no privacy laws stated that his small country prefers self regulatory solutions for online communications and according to Banisar, the 'US is out of step with the rest of the world' and this has been shown in the newly launched study by the GILC.
This new report provides details of the state of privacy in fifty countries around the world. It outlines the constitutional and legal conditions of privacy protection, and summarises important issues and events relating to privacy and surveillance. Among its key findings:
Privacy is a fundamental human right recognised in all major international treaties and agreements on human rights. Nearly every country in the world recognises privacy as a fundamental human right in their constitution, either explicitly or implicitly.
New technologies are increasingly eroding privacy rights. These include video surveillance cameras, identity cards and genetic databases.
There is a growing trend towards the enactment of comprehensive privacy and data protection acts around the world. Currently over 40 countries and jurisdictions have or are in the process of enacting such laws. Countries are adopting these laws in many cases to address past governmental abuses (such as in former East Bloc countries), to promote electronic commerce, or to ensure compatibility with international standards developed by the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Surveillance authority is regularly abused, even in many of the most democratic countries. The main targets are political opposition, journalists, and human rights activists. The U.S. government is leading efforts to further relax legal and technical barriers to electronic surveillance. Moreover, the Internet is coming under increased surveillance.
David Jones, Computer Science Professor, McMaster University and President, of Electronic Frontier Canadapresented his paper entitled 'Canadian Cryptography Policy in the Global Context,' which focused on the newly announced Canadian cryptography policy. Jones stated that cryptography is not a secret and cryptography is needed for several good reasons including the protection of human rights issues and organisations who may wish to conduct strategic planning over the Internet.
'Our fundamental right to use encryption flows, not only from our right to privacy, but also from our rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of the press' said Jones.
Jones showed a diskette with a computer program on it. This program implements a strong encryption algorithm known as Blowfish, which supports keys up to 448 bit in length. Is this strong encryption program speech asked Jones.
'Instead of arguing about the semantics of whether programs are more functional than expressive, the focus is on whether or not the government can come up with a sufficiently persuasive justification for its restriction, and show that their limits does substantially more good that harm.'
Professor Jones concluded by saying that 'cryptography is not a weapon, and as the GILC has argued recently, it has no place in an international arms control treat like the Wassenaar Agreement. Cryptography is an inherently defensive technology, that allows the protection of valuable information assets.'
Professor Viktor Mayer-Sch?nberger, University of Vienna, Austria / Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University explained the Austrian Draft Digital Signature Act which he was involved and said that this was widely supported within Austria. It was however opposed by the Austrian Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior together with the Federal Chancellory for obvious reasons of crime prevention. Professor Mayer-Sch?nberger also explained the privatising enforcement for Internet content and the various pressures on ISPs for content regulation and wiretapping.
James Savary, of York Universityand Consumers Association of Canada presented his paper entitled 'Protection of Personal Privacy: The Canadian Approach,' highlighted the essential elements of data protection and these consist of ownership, oversight and redress. Oversight issue will be controversial according to Mr Savary as an outside body to provide oversight is needed. This cannot be complaint driven. Therefore, oversight should be proactive, not merely active.
Redress is another difficult issue and there should be alternatives to court with tribunals, arbitration and mediation.
The Canadian approach is based on framework legislation with references as a standard or model code and this was tabled in October 1998 and they are consistent with the OECD Guidelines for Privacy. It initially applies to the federally regulated private sector; after three years it will apply to all Canadian private sectors. The new legislation builds in internationally recognised principles of good data protection.
Despite its weakness in implementation, a standards approach to privacy offers considerable promise at an international level. Canadian policy should be to continue to promote these issues at an international level.
Privacy remains the far most important issue related with Internet policy making and the panel described various proposals at various levels including national and international proposals.
What is the next generation of rights? How are the current rights enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and other International agreements going to apply in the electronic world? This panel chaired by Marc Rotenberg, Electronic Privacy Information Center examined the future of human rights on the global networks.
According to Laurie Wiseberg, Human Rights Internetthe Internet revolutionised the way we research and work. Urgent action networks are used to be distributed by telegrams and faxes. In Chiapas, the Zapatista Movement now use the Internet in quite a revolutionary way for their own causes. According to Ms Wiseberg access is a critical issue and with a paper journal they can aim to reach 2000 people but with the Internet millions can be reached with low costs. Even though it appears not to have a regulatory infrastructure, the Internet is in the hands of private bodies like ISPs or companies that provide search engines.
Who takes the decisions with important Internet policy issues such as free speech and privacy asked Mr Harry Hochheiser, member of the board of Directors of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. Who are these private organisations that are involved with regulatory issues? According to Mr Hochheiser finance is a big problem for NGOs for promoting their own views. Mr Hochheiser would like to see groups such as CPSR and EFF being involved with ITF discussion on Internet governance of domain names.
Jagdish Parikh, Human Rights Watchwho has been involved with free speech and privacy issues related to the Internet for a number of years raised important questions related to fundamental human rights:
'While it is widely understood that the Internet can open up global, faster and interactive communication, it is less well known that the Internet use also calls in to question long held assumptions about individual and communal rights. Some are old questions in a new context: What - if any - is the role of the government in regulating electronic communication? As ever more information is recorded and stored automatically, how can privacy rights be balanced with the right to know? What happens to individual privacy protections when information is a saleable commodity? Does the form in which information is kept change the government's obligation to inform its citizens?'
Answers to these and other questions will shape human rights dialogues in the 21st century according to Mr Parikh. 'The prime beneficiary of new communication technologies is today's youth, also known as the digital generation and this generation is not satisfied with yesterday's broadcast technologies. They increasingly demand interactive technologies which enable dialogues and allow them to speak with one another.'
For the first time in history, a younger generation is more comfortable with knowledgeable about and literate in technology than their parents, guardians and teachers. And for the first time, an adult generation is faced with a challenge to formulate public policies about a media better known by a younger generation. 'Ironically, the same generation has been largely left out of these social and political dialogues. What constitutes youth rights on-line is likely to be another key component shaping policies of citizens of tomorrow,' said Mr Parikh.
According to Edwin Rekosh, Director Public Interest Law Initiativein Transitional Societies Columbia Law School, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is soft law but does not create any obligations for signing governments. But in history some binding treaties were produced following the UDHR. For example, the European Court of Human Rights have a good track record and such systems can work. Rekosh also mentioned article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
According to Rekosh you cannot stop citizens seeking information and that was the case with the Spycatcher case in which the British government tried to suppress the publications of the memoirs of an ex MI5 agent in Australia while the book was available in New York bookshops.
Felipe Rodriguez, of Electronic Frontiers Australiaand one of the founders of XS4ALL in the Netherlands. Rodriguez said his expertise lies with the self-regulatory issues related to the Internet such as the creation of hotlines and effectiveness of these systems within Europe. According to Rodriguez the use of strong encryption tools is an important tool for human rights activists as well as for the development of electronic commerce. But Rodriguez highlighted the fact that different policies in different countries slow down the development and use of this important technology. Rodriguez also criticised the filtering and rating systems that are used for Internet content. He pointed out that the same technology can be used to censor or filter any kind of information. Secondly, mandatory use of such filtering systems as default can be used for example to filter out what is going in and out of a country. Singapore is such country that uses one of these tools known as PICS.
Rodriguez also explained the case in which Internet providers in Germany have blocked the Dutch Web site Access For All ('XS4ALL'), in response to legal threats from the German government, removing German users' access to the entireXS4ALLsystem. The German government demanded this action becauseXS4ALLhosts a Web page called Radikal by the Dutch 'Solidarity Group for Political Prisoners'. Radikal magazine is an offspring of the radical left German activist movements which is illegal in Germany. As a result of the German government's action there are now more than 40 mirror sites of the Radikal web page all around the world.
The panel highlighted the importance of the Internet for human rights issues and for social use rather than commercial use in the light of the forthcoming OECD Ministerial conference which will follow the GILC conference in Ottawa between October 8-9.
It is now time for the regulators, the industry and governments to realise that the Internet is not all about e-commerce but there are wider issues which deserve equal amount of attention. Public Voice was heard in Ottawa with the GILC conference. Following the GILC conference, a statement was prepared by GILC member organisations and other NGOs. This statement was circulated at the closing session of the OECD Ministerial conference, 'A Borderless World: Realising the Potential of Global Electronic Commerce,' which was held in Ottawa, Canada, on 7-9 October 1998 and is accepted by the OECD as an official document.[ 6]
THE GILC NGO statement highlighted the invitation of the NGO representatives by the OECD and affirmed the role, place and participation of public interest groups in the ongoing international discussions and negotiations with regard to electronic commerce. The statement called for the establishment of a Public Interest Advisory Committee within the OECD 'similar in type and function to the Business Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) for industry and the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) for trade unions.'
Such a committee should include representatives of public interest groups in the fields of human rights and democracy, privacy and data protection, consumer protection, and access.
Further, according to the GILC NGO statement, 'the promotion of electronic commerce by the OECD and member governments must be considered within the broader framework of protection of human rights, the promotion and strengthening of democratic institutions, and the provision of affordable access to advanced communication services.'
Marc Rotenberg, director of EPIC mentioned the GILC statement during his intervention at the OECD Ministerial Conference and said that the statement 'provides constructive, thoughtful approaches to the question of how to build trust with consumers and users and to maximise the benefits of electronic commerce.'
It is now time for these 'other important issues' to be taken into account by the regulators at both national and international foras.
1Mr Manley also chaired the OECD Ministerial conference in Ottawa between October 8-9, 1998 in Ottawa. See < http://www.ottawaoecdconference.com/english/homepage.html>
3Fraud.org receives over 70,000 visits and over 1300 e-mails per week from consumers all across the globe.
5See French Council of State report 'The Internet and Digital Networks,' July 1998 at < http://www.ladocfrancaise.gouv.fr/cgi-bin/multitel/CATALDOC/texte_generique?reper toire=rapports&fichier=cons-ang.htm&MID=bxOqOeVAdhmL>. See also comments on this French report by IRIS in their Newsletter, No: 4, September 1998 at <http://www.iris.sgdg.org/les-iris/li4.html>.
6See TUAC Letter To The Ministers of the OECD Member Countries and the Other Countries Attending the Ottawa Ministerial Conference, at < http://pdf.ottawaoecdconference.com/english/e_tuac.pdf> and < http://www.gilc.org/speech/oecd/ngo-oecd-letter-1098.html>. OECD Conference Resource Center is at < http://www.ottawaoecdconference.com/english/announcements/res_center.html>.
This is a Conference Report published on 26 February 1999.
Citation: Akdeniz Y, 'The Public Voice in the Development of Internet Policy: Proceedings from Ottawa Global Internet Liberty Campaign Conference, October 1998', Conference Report, 1999 (1)The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/99-1/akdeniz.html>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2/warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1999_1/akdeniz/>