The G8’s top-down intrusion into the field of Internet governance is drawing a growing chorus of protest from civil society actors. A significant number of digital rights and civil liberties groups are upset with the attempt of the French President to hold an “e-G8 Forum” on global Internet policy. There are good reasons for this concern.
One is the reactionary nature of French Internet policy. The French (and not only Sarkozy) are inveterate nationalists; when it comes to the promise and potential of decentralized and globalized communication they have never seemed to get it, seeking always to revert to the territorial state. France has also set an undesirable precedent for the world in the sphere of copyright protection, instituting a nationwide system of spying on internet users for file sharing, and imposing on Internet service providers the burden of policing the network on the music and movie industry’s behalf. Any leadership asserted by that country can only lead in the wrong direction.
But the so-called e-G8 Forum is as objectionable in form as it is likely to be in substance. It seems determined to pre-empt or abandon the new bottom-up, transnational and multi-stakeholder institutions that have handled Internet governance up to now, in favor of the classical pattern of decisions made by small, elite and exclusive groups pulled together by a few governmental leaders and large corporate actors. You can be sure that this Summit will focus more on how to control unruly users and protect vested interests than on issues such as online censorship and surveillance, developing new growth potential through disruptive innovation or protecting the security and civil liberties of ordinary users. (It's a delicious coincidence that on the eve of the Summit France's HADOPI system had to be suspended due to security flaws.)
The Internet Governance Caucus, the meeting point of civil society in the Internet Governance Forum, was the first to develop a letter of protest to France’s Sarkozy.
The campaigning organization Access Now has also circulated a letter which has attracted significant support. Canada’s Infowar Monitor has penned an excellent dissection of the problems of this summit. IGP joins these voices and hopes that the leaders who assemble in Paris and in Deauville will understand why the Internet community is questioning the legitimacy of their meeting. Perhaps they should give some thought to newer and more innovative forms of governance appropriate to the 21st century. It's both interesting and a bit embarrassing that John Perry Barlow, he who penned the great and rebellious Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, has been invited to this Forum. If I were him I would decline to participate, citing the inappropriateness of handling Internet governance as if it were an episode of the World Economic Forum.