Smooth talk at the civil society bilaterals

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Smooth talk at the civil society bilaterals
User: terminus
Date: 7/11/2012 2:20 am
Views: 2013
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I feel uneasy when governments start sounding reasonable. The thing is, I want to believe them - and sometimes I do - only to be proved wrong, when their actions don't live up to their words.

So following the bilateral meetings between civil society and delegates from the governments of India and the United States (separately, I should add - and the Europeans have one coming up too) I'm feeling mighty uneasy.

First (yesterday) came Kapil Sibal, India's Minister for Communications and IT, who claimed that no governance of the Internet, in the traditional sense, was possible and that whilst "rules of accountability" are needed to address issues like terrorism, child pornography and drug trafficking, these would be developed in a consensual process, with civil society taking the lead role in putting policy proposals forward.

Then later I heard that India had made a proposal for the ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) that read just like the kind of horror story that the WCIT alarmists have been crowing about. Sibal had said, "Civil society has got to stop attacking governments." But we only do that because the government acts badly first! See what I mean about words and actions?

This evening it was the US Government's turn (Larry Strickling, Fiona Alexander, Terry Kramer and Manu Bhardwaj), and they were all about how whilst they want to set global norms for the Internet on issues that are important to them like net neutrality, they are going to do this in a multistakeholder way on the basis of facts and evidence, and won't be ideological about it... sounds good, right?

So let's ponder how true these fine words are likely to be. For one thing, it would mean a major shift in their approach to global IP norms, which has been unremittingly ideological using "innovation", "creativity" and "jobs" as mantras, even when there is no real evidence base to support their assertions.

Consider also the US government's professed support for the multi stakeholder model, and compare this against its failure to make any use of the IGF, which is meant to be a paragon of that model at the global level, for floating policy proposals like those it is pushing bilaterally and multilaterally elsewhere. I asked about this with reference to their push to advance the OECD principles for Internet policy making in other fora like APEC before bringing them to the IGF, and their response was a mumbled, "Isn't the OECD doing a workshop on that this year?"

So excuse me if I remain critical for now, even if it makes me a few enemies (and it does, yeah I know). Once governments and intergovernmental organisations start living up to their words, I'll start to lay off my harsh tweets and blog posts. Do we have a deal?
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