FRENCH PRESIDENT Nicolas Sarkozy opened the first e-G8 forum by saying that the internet needs governments to get involved in order to fulfill its potential.
Addressing an audience comprising the who's who of online commerce, president Sarkozy said that governments should not allow internet use to remain unchecked. Sarkozy told the audience, made up of around 1,500 technology executives, "The world you represent is not a parallel universe where legal and moral rules and more generally all the basic rules that govern society in democratic countries do not apply."
Sarkozy said, "Nobody can have his ideas, work, imagination and intellectual property expropriated without punishment," referring to France's strong line on filesharing with its Hadopi three-strikes law. Sarkozy admitted that other nations might find France's stance on copyright law not to their liking, however it looks like he could be facing widespread opposition to his call for governments to weigh in with heavy handed internet regulation.
British prime minister David Cameron is going to object to any calls for governments to get into the business of regulating the internet. According to the Guardian, Cameron's aides believe there are many issues that would have to be addressed before anyone could regulate the internet on an international scale, with one 10 Downing Street official saying, "We will not be regulating the internet any time soon."
Jochai Ben-Avie, a policy analyst at Access and one of the authors of the Civil Society Statement to the e-G8 told The INQUIRER, "When Sarkozy talks about a 'civilized internet' he's talking about a digital world strangled by heavy-handed government regulation which has the potential to greatly infringe our rights. In order to realize the full potential of the internet and indeed to fully realize our rights online, we need the internet to be open, uncensored, and unmonitored. On a more practical policy level, that means committing to citizen-centered policies like net neutrality, it means saying no censorship via government filters, and expanding quality access to the internet for all."
Governments wanting to regulate the internet will have some very serious effects on civil liberties, according to Ben-Avie. "Such policies have an incredibly chilling effect on free speech, as providers are going to be far more likely to take down contentious, but still legal content, surveil user activity online, and users themselves tend to self-censor what they say online," he added.
Ben-Avie wasn't buying Sarkozy's speech, calling it a "thinly-veiled attempt... to bring together the leaders of government and business to demonstrate a consensus on tight government regulation of the internet". Ben-Avie said that Sarkozy didn't have it all his own way, with some big names such as Lawrence Lessig, Susan Crawford, Jean-Francois Julliard, Yochai Benkler and Jeff Jarvis attending Access' press conference with Ben-Avie, claiming that over 40 other civil society organisations "were largely excluded from this event".
Any calls for government regulation are likely to be met with consternation by telecoms operators and the major internet brands as well as internet users. Telecoms operators in particular have been vocal in saying that free market economics and not government regulations will help shape the internet, though whether their vision is self-serving is another question. Sarkozy even warned technology executives against monopoly control and intrusions into privacy, something that should no doubt make him popular amongst people who make money from knowing what internet users do online.
Sarkozy might have acknowledged that people won't agree with his view on this highly contentious issue, but international regulation of the internet is something that will not only be hard to agree upon and design but perhaps impossible to implement. When it comes to the issue of governments controlling how the internet will be governed, both the users and large internet companies will not want to play ball. µ
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