Surveillance likely to be key issue in 2014 Internet conference

Concerns high over US control of Internet governance

By Moushumi Sharma
Published: Tuesday 02 September 2014

NSA's surveillance programmes via the Internet have drawn criticisms from across the globe (Image courtesy Flickr)Discussions relating to global mass surveillance and privacy of Internet users are likely to dominate the ninth annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), underway in Istanbul, Turkey, till September 5, reports The Hindu. The IGF, according to the United Nations, is a new forum for “multi-stakeholder policy dialogue”. The mandate  of the forum is to discuss public policy issues “related to key elements of Internet governance to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet”.

“The Global Information Society Watch report shows how most people and governments have completely missed the point of mass surveillance: it is ubiquitous, widespread and involves everyone, whether or not you are a ‘threat to the state’, or engaged in criminal activities,” The Hindu quotes Elvira Tiguru, spokesperson for Association for Progressive Communications, a global network of civil society organisations.

According to Govind, the chief executive officer of National Internet Exchange of India, India is the third-largest user of Internet in the world, with 220 million users of mobile Internet alone. “So the discussions taking place here matter to us,” he told The Hindu.

US monopoly over Internet

In an interview  to The Hindu, Loius Pouzin, a pioneer of the Internet and recipient of Chevalier of Légion d’Honneur, the highest civilian award in France, expresses concern about how the Internet today is being controlled by the US. “American technological and military concerns heavily influence Internet governance policy. China and Russia are capable of challenging this dominance. But, despite being a strong commercial power, China has not deployed Internet technology across the world,” he says.

The conference in Istanbul will bring together government officials, policymakers, mediapersons, industry and civil society representatives and academia to discuss and deliberate on issues like surveillance, censorship and network neutrality. The agenda of the forum assumes significance in the backdrop of global concerns about mass surveillance programmes by governments, particularly the US, and the revelations by former US National Security Agency (NSA) employee Edward Snowden on the spying habits of the world’s superpower. “The revelations by Snowden have proved beyond doubt that user data held by Internet companies today are subject to pervasive surveillance,” Pouzin says.

Earlier in July, during US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to India, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had raised the issue of NSA reportedly being authorised to conduct surveillance of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. On whether governments can use a forum like IGF to raise concerns, Pouzin says, “Even if governments do attend IGF, they do not come up with a mandate.” He encourages Indian citizens to participate in this forum to raise privacy and surveillance-related concerns.”

IGF mandate

The theme of IGF this year is “Connecting continents for enhanced multi-stakeholder Internet governance”. Over the years, IGF has facilitated the exchange of information and best practices regarding the Internet. The forum also serves as a platform to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the Internet.

According to a Forbes report, open access has been a recurring theme at IGF, where participants have time and again agreed that the Internet should be open to all ideas and not censored by governments. The report further says that any discussion of free speech should include a critique of countries that have restricted access to some parts of the Internet, including the host country, Turkey, which had banned access to Twitter and YouTube for a brief period early this year.

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