by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
December 15, 2012 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on December 15, 2012 -- and, a little later, on http://fyifrance.blogspot.com/, and at Facebook-Jack Kessler's Notes
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> A closed-door meeting of the world's governments is starting today. The future of the internet is on the agenda. Some governments want to use this meeting of the International Telecommunication Union to increase censorship and regulate the Internet.
> I am concerned, and I am not alone. More than 1,000 organizations from 163 countries have raised concerns about this upcoming closed-door meeting in Dubai. They are joined by hundreds of thousands of Internet users who are standing up for a free and open Internet...
-- and the following are excerpts from a website Google has devoted to the issue --
> A free and open world depends on a free and open web -- The Internet has connected more than two billion people around the world. Some governments want to use a closed-door meeting in December to increase censorship and regulate the Internet. Join together to keep the Internet free and open.
> What's at stake -- Only governments have a voice at the ITU. This includes governments that do not support a free and open Internet. Engineers, companies, and people that build and use the web have no vote.
> Pledge your support for the free and open Internet -- A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet. Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future. The billions of people around the globe who use the Internet should have a voice.
The ITU has been meeting in Dubai, this month, discussing all this --
It's been a strange situation: a 19th century institution -- established in 1865, well before the development of the telephone or radio or TV, as the "International Telegraph Union" --
-- trying simply to grapple with, much less regulate, an invention only coming to fruition really now in the 21st century, a century this invention promises to dominate in its economics, plus in significant aspects of its politics, society and general culture.
It is the view of many, outside the anglophone world which dominates the online world currently, that this is David versus Goliath: a small team of dedicated internationalists, trying to tame a gigantic and so-far-uncontrollable "capitalist" & "commercial" juggernaut created and still controlled mostly from the enormous and currently-overly-powerful USA.
The opposition returns the know-nothing compliment, viewing Internet regulation by Others as turning-over their baby, their newest and greatest hope for human freedom, to Machiavellian control by Biggest Brother in the Orwellian sense -- to Old Europe, as a recent US Secretary of Defense notoriously labeled that place, or worse to The Dictators who still run some nation-states represented in the ITU, or to Retrograde Religions -- or to the greatest enemy, according to many current Internet developers, The Politicians... "nation-building" by the US will solve all such problems eventually, it is believed, such differences, but until then...
Simplistic views and versions, all, but much is at stake here, and mutual misunderstandings and mistrust run high and deep.
The world increasingly seems divided, these days, between those who mistrust mainly The BusinessPeople, and those who mistrust mainly The Politicians... There seems to be agreement only that no one trusts The Bankers.
For example, in the substantial "ITU" literature online, now, I first read mention of the Internet Society as an "industry group"... I suppose it must be... But until now I've always considered ISOC to be just an altruistic bunch, a group of value-free / wertfrei engineers devoted to the betterment of humankind, and somewhat innocent of the commercial mandate to "monetize", as proven during their Dotcom Bust, and of the machinations of "realpolitik". There is no wertfrei, yes...
ISOC fans must understand, however, that outside the current anglophone world, a world largely raised on the Neoconservative thinking of the Reagan and Thatcher eras, Manichean divisions in world-view are different. In the US and UK, the crucial distinctions are economic: Haves versus Have-nots, The 1% versus The Other 99%, The Other Quintiles versus Occupy, and the "trickle-down" policies and "entitlements" which both distinguish and connect the two.
Elsewhere, though, older and simpler institutional distinctions define policy debates: Government versus Industry, Public Sector versus Private Sector. So in some quarters in Europe, still, the worst thing one can label an association such as ISOC is "an industry group"... the "merely" is implied, the sarcasm and dismissal are clear...
I attended an academic European technology conference, not so long ago, at which it was suggested that "representatives of industry" be invited to attend subsequent sessions; but the conference's leading light, a distinguished university professor with a long record of government work, imperiously sniffed his disapproval at the suggestion, declaring that if "businesspeople" were to be present at future sessions he personally would not attend....
So, depending as always on who is saying it, the description of ISOC as an "industry group" is not a compliment, in many quarters -- in most quarters, outside the anglophone world.
In the ITU debates the compliment gets returned... The "Old Europe" appellation is mild, compared to the overt suspicions surrounding all Third World "democracies" -- in name only, the anglophone world seems convinced -- and particularly the worries about the leadership suitabilities of the two great Asian rivals for US hegemony now emerging, India and China. There are great fears, nearly hysterical at times, among those in the US and UK now still tenderly nursing the new Internet seedling, that the grown plant will become warped beyond recognition, by the nefarious tendencies of Petty Dictatorship and Crony Capitalism and their ilks, "overseas" somewhere.
For examples of both stances, simply punch "ITU Internet" into Google and have a look, right now... the topic is timely, everyone everywhere is chiming-in, nobody anywhere seems to want compromise of any sort, and few know anything about the topic or even have given it much thought...
But then it's a tough game. There is a lot at stake. It is important to remember though that it also is an old one: any time there is this much dissension, over something which might just be a "technical" topic, it is because broader and deeper and older issues than just the technology are involved --
This ITU tussle over the Internet is a microcosm of many old and recent and still-current social trends, from Globalization to De-Colonization to Inter-nationalism and Trans-nationalism, by way of religious and Human Rights and many other Fundamental Freedoms -- including Women's Rights and cultural sovereignty, which become heavily involved any time such issues reach what used to be called The Third World. For example some people even feel passionately about printed books -- many fearing greatly that digital technologies will decimate those, their associated cultural practices, and much human knowledge with it.
And human languages: some of us fear greatly that the french language, for example, will disappear -- in the still largely-anglophone onslaught of The Digital -- while others among us feel that the Internet is the greatest hope for, among many current linguistic practices, la francophonie. [see Jack Kessler, "Mondialisation, internet et francophonies", in Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France Lyon, ENSSIB, t. 57 no. 6 p. 9, ISSN 1292-8399, http://bbf. enssib.fr/sommaire/2012/6 -- forthcoming].
The ITU Dubai conference offers fascinating reading, and video-viewing, of all these current and many other very-pressing issues:
-- importantly, though, for understanding the intractability of both this conference and its general topic, is noticing how formerly-unrelated to its topic many of the issues discussed in this WCIT-12 conference are -- the Internet is new, much of what concerns people about it though is very, very old, issues we are not going to resolve soon, and certainly not if that resolution must be a prelude to our globalizing any sort of democratic management of our Internet.
The ITU's conference initial outcome, just-announced, seems as-so-often inconclusive: some nation-states, the ones which "don't count" some will say, voted yes -- on a draft treaty which seems doomed, GreeceGate-like, to become a can forever kicked further down the road -- the Big nation-states, which "count", voting no and so condemning the document and its intentions to withering on the vine from delay, or to oblivion.
On the other hand this is, like so many other international treaties, perhaps just a first step: the International Criminal Court took many years, too, so did Land Mines, so have Nuclear Non-proliferation, Environmental Protection, Human Rights, Law of the Sea, Space Law, Animal Rights, and so do other high-principled efforts considered by some to be impractical, at first and at various times later -- these things take on lives of their own, sometimes exceeding the life-spans of those who initiate them, but they must be begun somewhere, at some time, by someone... in that sense it is fitting that an elderly institution with a long memory, like this ITU founded 150 years ago, at least begin the process...
There are interesting wrinkles, in the ITU conference vote: France voted "non", the USA and Canada and the UK and Switzerland all voted no -- China voted yes and India voted no -- Russia and Haiti and Thailand and Afghanistan all voted yes --
-- let others speculate, political scientists & political junkies both, about the interest-group-blocs these votes represent, remembering always that "polyarchy" (Robert Dahl) rules, that the declared topic of any conference never is the sole topic of interest to its participants...
And the travaux préparatoires as always are interesting: few treaties or contracts or agreements of any sort -- or for that matter disagreements -- ever are without their pre-existing ideas and pre-conceived positions --
-- much that is there, among the various "Proposals for the Work of the Conference", provides clues to the vote-outcomes in the previous link, but more importantly to the current mindsets which largely pre-determine those outcomes -- read the extreme negativity, in several of the Proposals, before you think that any of this conferencing ever has been easy, or is going to be easy going forward.
For example the US, as sponsoring-parent, tried at least to be diplomatic to those who now would take-over the further training of its Internet-baby:
-- while Europe was more blunt, perhaps befitting diplomats with older and more thorny memories of dealing with many of the other signatories on the list -- not all of the Europeans, but some -- "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?", Henry Kissinger famously complained, still a problem... --
-- not an easy task then, no, convincing nation-states with vested interests and set positions, or others with overlapping and conflicting priorities, to change, or to update, or to learn a new trick or certainly to absorb an entirely-new overall approach.
So, a note to Violet Blue, who says on Twitter, inter much alia about all this -- for a fun account of the conference read her postings there, @violetblue -- "Countries now refusing to sign #ITU's #WCIT12 internet treaty: Japan, Denmark, Costa Rica, Qatar, Czwch Republic, Poland, all EU." --
-- these things change, Violet Blue, an ITU conference is just a slice-in-time, very like a Twitter posting -- it wasn't entirely-true yesterday, and it won't be entirely-true tomorrow, processes take a long time and soundbites are just an instant of that. One problem with the digital world is that it's just soundbites, so far -- 20 years is just a soundbite, in things-political -- 120 years is just that, too, in things-political-international -- that's why maybe it's best that an organization with a 150-year institutional memory is tackling this, now, they / it knows things don't change overnight, too, but that they must be begun if they are to change at all -- so if among your worries is one that "perennial start-up" might not be the best model for the Internet going forward, well, with all the Bad Guys out there already messing with it, take heart because the ITU is Here, and at least is looking at that now... not that they are the White Hats, but their hats are not as black as some...
Finally, then, here is a thought for Violet Blue and for Vint Cerf and for anyone Really Worried: my own personal initial reaction to Cerf's circular letter -- worried as I personally would be by digital libraries being placed under the closer direction of Dictators or Cronies or Corporations or Politicians, "foreign" or other --
The issue is not the Internet's being taken over by The World Order, it is what sort of World Order will we have when it takes over the Internet -- it may be a very different World Order, and Internet, by then.
ITU control of the Internet is a frightening yet inevitable prospect. The Internet can't stay a "start-up" forever. The World wants in -- and the World does "think different" than the US does. So, not whether-to-do-it, but how-to-get-there-from-here, is the question.
My own suggestion is to change not, or not just, the Internet, but also the ITU -- make the ITU more broadly-representative in the modern sense, no longer beholden simply & only to the "nation-states".
This is an era of trans-nationalism, globalism, soft power -- Joseph Nye is a start, he started it, although it's a general & leading theme in international relations now, see also many others -- Nye has written the following --
-- the ITU, like the UN and all our now-elderly international institutions, needs updating to all these new standards -- only then can it manage something as bleeding-edge-amorphous as the Internet, or frankly as the other modern telecommunications systems the ITU tries to manage already, all of which the Internet is transforming now, rapidly and completely.
So Cerf is right about what he says; but the Internet is changing anyway -- rapidly, radically, continuously -- the ITU needs to respond, to all this innovation, and to change itself as well. When it is more representative, and better-representative, of what people everywhere want, then we -- all of us, not just US Americans and not just Chinese, or Jamaicans, or Argentinians -- will have better confidence in surrendering some power to it.
It's political validity -- see Hans Kelsen and many others, about that -- that's a problem faced by the political efficacy of the International Criminal Court & the World Trade Organization & the European Union & Non-Proliferation and many other international organizations and efforts, now -- that it does no good to be effective if you are not politically-valid, because sooner or later your political support will evaporate and leave you hanging in the wind, useless.
The old UN was founded upon a nation-state concept, but the modern world increasingly is not just inter-national but trans-national, including its libraries, and its digital libraries: we need trans-national thinking, in our institutions like the ITU now -- without it they're just headless, and lack political support, and it will continue to be a jungle out there.
But Merry Christmas anyway!
Jack Kessler, email@example.com
FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071-5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic | journal published since 1992 as a small-scale, | personal experiment, in the creation of large- | scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. / \ Any material written by me which appears in ----- FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for // \\ any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me --------- credit and show my email address, and, b) it // \\ isn't going to make them money: if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives may be found at http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html (PACS-L archive), or http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/Collections/FYIFrance/ or http://www.fyifrance.com -- also now at http://www.facebook.com ("Jack Kessler" My Notes), and at http://fyifrance.blogspot.com/. Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org . Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved except as indicated above.
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