In the desert, the mountains hover in the distance. Sun glances and taxis arrive at the gates of the conference center. Getting from outside to inside means going through security cordons, police checks, metal detectors.
Inside, discussions balance freedom and openness. There is no necessary consensus: freedom and openness can mean different things to different people. We want to secure human rights on the internet – we want to make the media that happens there as independent as possible. We have the same conversation as we did before, we talk about technology having values, and attempt to make those values as universal as possible. It’s not easy, and not everyone agrees.
Internet governance is a process, and unlike the IETF or ICANN, we use the time to disagree, to discuss. This is a great opportunity to talk about the process that we followed at Oxford bringing together free speech and child protection advocates. The same process applied, and the results were very positive.
Except sometimes the perspective of multi-stakeholder process is rattled by misunderstanding. I had dinner the other night with a group of folks from the Open Net Initiative who were troubled by their book promotion poster being tossed to the ground by UN security. This is another issue of balance: although the book poster mentioned Chinese firewalls the dialogue at these meetings happens in UN space. No one is allowed to hang posters, no matter what the subject.
This is a delicate process, and it means crossing the cordon at the gate. Not always easy.
UPDATE: I’ve talked to more people at the IGF about the poster incident – since I wasn’t there I can’t comment on exactly what occurred. A few people who were there noted that the disagreement was NOT about commercial posters but about references to China – even though the existence of China’s Great Firewall is not disputed. Why such a strong response to a statement of fact? Especially since one of the features I observed at the Forum was healthy disagreement. It would be deeply problematic for the internet as a global resource if this tolerance were limited.
I don’t feel as though what happened to the OpenNet Initiative was in fact misunderstanding. While there may very well be a rule against posters, the fact is that plenty of other groups were allowed to hang them; in fact, OpenNet hung a poster for another meeting without incident. The UN specifically targeted the OpenNet’s poster because of its content.
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