Open Internet governance urged at Australian Internet Governance Forum

Closed-door talks “are absolutely eating away like a corrosive acid from inside,” says Internet NZ CEO.

Closed-door talks and excessive self-interest in governance hurts the Internet, said a Google official and other Internet stakeholders on a panel this morning at the Australian Internet Governance Forum. The secret Trans-Pacific Partnership talks received particular criticism.

Google might not exist if not for the open nature of the Internet, said the company’s head of public policy for Australia and New Zealand, Iarla Flynn. “It was that open, global space that allowed Google to get started and many, many other wonderful services that we all use every day.”

However, Flynn said some countries — for example, Russia — see the Internet as a threat. He said the Russians see the Internet as “a big problem” because “it opens up tremendous opportunity for cyber terrorists [and] for cyber criminals, [and] it exposes risks to key economic infrastructure.

“If that sort of ethos ever got control of the Internet, it would become a very different place very, very quickly.”

It’s fine for a government to pass laws for its own country about what people can and can’t do on the Internet, said David Farrar, chair of the Internet NZ public policy committee. It’s also fine if different governments can agree on baseline rules, he said. But he disagrees with governments that “want to push their laws and policies out onto the entire world through Internet technical protocols, through things like the domain name system.”

“What we’re seeing now is governments not only wanting to control what’s in their country, but globally,” said AusRegistry International CEO Adrian Kineris.

Internet NZ CEO Vikram Kumar described a bipolar attitude in Australia and New Zealand when discussing Internet policy at home versus internationally. Those governments “tend to take very liberal, pro-Internet positions internationally,” he said. “But something happens when they start looking at some of those positions nationally.”

For example, “we all seem to be pretty clear and happy that our governments should stand up and oppose the ITU expanding its role, and yet these are the same governments and the same people who are extremely happy to discuss within the country things like data retention” and copyright laws, he said.

“The Internet itself is creating a need for new ways of thinking, and we haven’t quite evolved from the old ways to the new ways,” Kumar said. “Sometimes it becomes hard for people to accept that Internet governance doesn’t require treaties” or “top-down thinking, and there doesn’t have to be concepts like ownership.”

Kumar lambasted the closed-door nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which aims to form a major trade agreement among Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Critics are concerned the deal might include broad copyright restrictions.

“The TPP is fundamentally undercutting the multi-stakeholder model,” he said. “The multi-stakeholder model is about openness and transparency and ... getting everyone’s viewpoints. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is exactly the opposite ... At the end of the day, it’s a political thing. It is about political trade-offs.”

Closed-door talks resulting from the TPP “are absolutely eating away like a corrosive acid from inside,” Kumar said, “and we just don’t know what’s happening inside.”

Google shares transparency concerns about the TPP, said Flynn. “Open dialogue has delivered better policy, and therefore that’s the way it should continue.” However, Flynn said one potentially positive element is that the agreement could open up opportunities for e-commerce trade. For example, the US is fighting against laws requiring locally hosted services, he said.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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