What IGF is for? ONI Asia event rattled by UN Security Office

Our ONI reception was rattled by IGF security, who objected to a poster advertising “Access Controlled”, the book to be introduced at this event. The poster was thrown on the floor and we were told to remove it because of the reference to China and Tibet. We refused, and security guards came and removed it. The incident was witnessed by many. The poster promoting ONI new forthcoming book “Access Controlled” was removed by the IGF’s organizers because a sentence in the poster violated UN’s policy. The sentence in question reads, “The first generation of Internet controls consisted largely of building firewalls at key Internet gateways; China’s famous “Great Firewall of China” is one of the first national Internet filtering systems.” “If we cannot discuss topics about Internet censorship and surveillance policy at a forum about Internet governance then what is the point of something like the IGF,” said Ron Deibert Director of the Citizen Lab, Munk Centre for International Studies,and one of ONI’s principal investigators. According to Ron Deibert of The Citizen Lab and Open Net Initiatives (ONI) Principal, one of the organizers of the reception event, he will file a complaint against the`censorship’ of their event and send it to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. “We condemn this undemocratic act of censoring our event just because someone is trying to impress or be in the good graces of the Chinese government. It is ironic that while people are allowed to gather here to discuss freedom of expression online, censorship and surveillance practices on the Internet, we are being restricted in expressing our views,” said Al Alegre of the Foundation for Media Alternatives, a member of the ONI Network. We the members of ONI Network protest on this censorship at IGF, and ask the question that What IGF is for, if we can not discuss Internet Governance issues at this forum. Best wishes and regards Shahzad Ahmad Bytesforall, Pakistan

A new IGF begins

On the first day of the Sharm el Sheikh meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, it is clear that if the IGF’s mandate isn’t renewed following its fifth meeting next year, at least it will go out in style. Like the host countries that preceded them, the Egyptian hosts have learned from the mistakes of the past, and insisted on raising the bar. An Egyptian-themed IGF Village has emerged mirage-like this morning from what yesterday was a construction zone. Power outlets positively bristle from underneath every few seats. Internet is (mostly) fast and strong. An embarrassing abundance of food is provided. Main sessions now provide plain text streaming – something I’ve previously suggested, and even sign-language. Not all is well, though. With so many workshops having been scheduled, it is perhaps only to be expected that there would be errors in the programme – but it is worrying that details of the same workshops differ between one page and another of the IGF’s Web site. Moreover, two days ago all the workshop times for Wednesday the 18th were changed to make way for a new session from the host nation. Workshop organisers were not informed of this; we’re still discovering the change by osmosis. It is certain that many will turn up on Wednesday expecting to attend a workshop that already began an hour earlier. (On a similar but more mundane note, many delegates missed lunch because they had not been told where to find it.) Finally, in a forum where open standards and access to knowledge are strongly advocated, it should not be the case that all the public computers still run Microsoft Windows and that proprietary Webcasting software is employed. I found it especially ironic that the description of the workshop on “Web Accessibility” is only made available in Microsoft Word format. Still, the mood is positive and most peoples’ intentions are good. This alone isn’t reason for the extension of the IGF’s mandate. But as the title of this post suggests, a new IGF may be on the way – not another meeting, but a new understanding of the purpose of the organisation. At yesterday’s meeting of the Internet Governance Caucus, representatives of the IGF Secretariat let slip that as a condition of its renewal, the new IGF might be empowered to conclude recommendations – something for which I have been advocating for three years. Here’s to the future of the IGF.