MAPPING: the debate continues

After lunch, MAPPING's programme for its Extraordinary General Assembly was reshuffled a bit in order to accommodate further questions and answers arising out of the morning session. Enforcement and monitoring of the terms of a possible convention, as well as discussion of which convention might be invoked, were among the topics raised. This blogger's impression is that the sentiment of the meeting was very much in favour of the Council of Europe rather than the European Union taking the lead in internet governance issues, notwithstanding the greater homogeneity of the EU.

The notion of parallel internets was also raised. Countries like Turkey and Russia were cited as being among those that might wish to fragment the internet so that it operates the way they'd like it to-- as China and Tunisia in before the Arab Spring have to some extent done -- and no international treaty would deter them from doing so.  One speaker from the floor mentioned that there are already parallel internets that exist outside national boundaries: Facebook is de facto a parallel internet.

Another issue raised was that of tackling hypocrisy, where governments criticise each other for trammelling individuals' rights but do the same themselves, and where businesses incorporate infringement of personal rights into their own business plans.  This can only be cured by identifying acceptable standards and then promoting them in order to change people's attitudes -- but would this be sufficient? Cultural relativism was also considered.  Different cultures and religions (Islam was specifically mentioned here) have divergent standards for what content is acceptable, and one country's censorship is another's protection of treasured values.

The formal part of the afternoon session opened with a panel session at which each panel member [names withheld for Chatham House purposes: Grrrr!] spoke in turn on reform of internet governance of surveillance. The first speaker raised (among other cases) the French Yahoo! litigation, of which many people today seem to have no knowledge, in which a French court ordered Yahoo! to take all available measures to prevent access of French internet users to a website hosted in the US and which sold Nazi memorabilia; a US court then refused to enforce the French court's order but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that Yahoo! had to comply with the French order. This was really a conflict of jurisdiction case rather than one decided on the basis of internet law. How would a cybercrime convention have affected cases such as this -- or indeed last week's ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Google Spain? The latter affirms that EU law applies to Google and that individuals can ask search engine companies to remove them from search results even where the information is held on a web page and is not removed from it.

What of due process and the rule of law? Initially an individual has recourse to the internet service provider. If that doesn't work, the formal legal procedure kicks in.  We have also made progress in establishing the extent to which human rights translate from the physical world to the internet, the first panellist added. Finally, what is needed is political will on the part of government in order to articulate what human rights and proper principles mean, and what measures of enforcement exist. More is needed than the slow-track mechanism of having to go to the European Court of Human Rights. As for trade in surveillance software and hardware, could the same techniques deployed in relation to dual-use military technologies be used here too?

Further questions and comments were invited at this point, some of which related to discussion of a formal surveillance treaty with both substantive and procedural provisions. Another point, made with some force, was the problem of getting information at European level to trickle down to national legislators and to get them to engage with this subject at all (much the same applied to judges, it was also observed).
MAPPING: the debate continues MAPPING: the debate continues Reviewed by Jeremy on Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Rating: 5


  1. The great thing about the internet is that it forces us all to live together, despite our different cultural values. Perhaps it's a place where we'll be forced to use persuasion and accommodation instead of economic and military might to sort out our differences.

  2. Anonymous @ 15:03,

    Please do not be so Pollyanna.

    You cannot ignore basic human nature and think that "technology" will make us more mature as a species.

    You only invite disaster with such a view.

  3. The list of the speakers in each panel is public actually - :-)

  4. Anonymous of 21 May 2014 15:12 -- yes, of course the list of speakers is available, which is why the Chatham House Rule is so inappropriate. Apparently some people present are anxious that this figleaf should remain. Strange, in a room full of people calling for greater transparency, isn't it?


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