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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 10:42 GMT
Readers' panel: Future of the net
The world's first global Internet Governance Forum is underway in Athens.

The forum, set up by the UN, will bring together over 1,500 delegates, from governments, companies and organisations, over five days to debate issues of openness, diversity, access and security online.

Our panel of readers are drawn from around the world, each with their particular concern for the future of the internet.

What do you think the future of the internet holds for openness, security, diversity and access?

Joe Dynamo
Joe
Annapolis, USA

Karen Inda
Karen
Prague, Czech Rep

David Mohammad Yaghoobi
David
Tehran, Iran

Gabriel Kalonde Chingwe
Gabriel
Lusaka, Zambia

Elson Silva
Elson
Campinas, Brazil

Gail
Gail
Seoul, South Korea

JOE DYNAMO, ANNAPOLIS, USA

Joe Dynamo
Joe used to live in a school bus, now he's an IT consultant
My hope for the internet's future would be for it to continue to grow in an open and fully accessible manner. That being said, the internet as we know it is changing and evolving.

The internet itself is just a big fat conduit. What most people see as the internet is not a collection of devices talking to each other.

It is the banking application they use, the web mail account, online stock trading, poker applications or social networking sites.

Internet development up to today has been the wild west. I think we are probably moving to a more regulated future. That is a normal evolution for complex systems.

Order really does form from chaos. This is not a bad thing, just an evolution of a wonderful tool that has changed the human social experience forever.

Without an open, secure, diverse and accessible system what good would the internet be?

What good would a poker application or an online banking application be if you could not trust it to be secure?

What good would a religious or political discussion forum be without openness?

What good would a public train schedule site be without accessibility?

How interesting would anything be without diversity?

Let's try to do something that makes things better today
Without regulation on the city streets do you think anyone would ever be able to drive anywhere?

The great issue before anyone with power should be how to use it wisely to improve the human condition.

Icann (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) are getting some bad press over here. Seminal internet companies got favourable deals - get over it. They deserve a slap on the back for what they've given us, don't begrudge them.

I have to believe that people in power are moved by these beliefs, and if they are not they should be promptly removed from a position of power.

Let's try to do something that makes things better today. At the very least, try not to make it worse.

GABRIEL KALONDE CHINGWE, LUSAKA, ZAMBIA

Gabriel Kalonde Chingwe
Gabriel works in Zambia's private sector and travels regularly
As more individuals and organisations get access to the internet, security will be paramount to protect the huge database that is created by all users.

Not withstanding the ever increasing scientific research, trade, technology, finance, banking and just literally anything being done with information communication technology (ICT), there are billions out there who are yet to get near a computer.

The world is becoming ever smaller, with globalisation meaning someone's personal data can be circulated right across the globe within minutes, with both good and bad intentions.

Hence, if, for example, I am applying for a job in Europe or the United States, I must be reasonably assured that my bio-data will be safe between my PC and the agent in those two places.

This information age has immense advantages outweighing the negatives
Banks and other financial institutions collect a lot of bio-data and should conform firstly to confidentiality and secondly with issues of various countries treaties on security.

The UK, for example, is one of 27 countries signed up to the US Visa Waiver Program, which demands that all passports issued after 26 October 2006 must contain a machine-readable chip with the passport holder's details and a biometric identifier, such as a digital photograph of the holder.

This means wherever a person travels, their personal details will be captured, and, because of security and other reasons, privacy must be maintained and respected at all times.

Therefore, while the internet and this information age has immense advantages outweighing the negatives, citizens across the globe must be protected from abuse, particularly of unauthorized access to bio-data which can be used for all the wrong reasons.

KAREN INDA, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

Karen Inda
Although based in Europe, Karen is currently in the UAE
Openness is perhaps the most important thing, and the idea of internet censorship hits close to home at the moment.

I say "at the moment" because we are now living in our winter home, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Despite the fact that thousands of international companies have offices in the UAE, the government tightly controls the internet.

The phrase: "We apologise, the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the UAE" is all too familiar to residents here.

It's not just porn sites that are blocked, however; sites that allow users to share information, photos and videos have been blocked as well.

At various points in the recent past, Download.com, YouTube.com, MySpace.com, Flickr.com, and any sites with information about breasts (even "breast cancer") were blocked.

The free-flow of information has only ever benefited society
These sites have now been unblocked due to public pressure, but the government could block them again just as easily.

Unfortunately, the UAE government has also blocked Voice over IP, so websites such as Skype.com are currently unusable both to and from the UAE.

This makes it difficult for thousands of guest workers, who rely on inexpensive calls to stay in touch with their families back home.

Should governments censor the internet? I don't think so. Adults can choose which sites to visit or avoid, and it is up to parents to protect their children.

When people use the internet for things that are illegal, governments can use that as a tool to trace them.

The free-flow of information has only ever benefited society. The internet should remain unblocked by all governments, as it is the first way for individual voices to be heard on a global level.

ELSON SILVA, PhD, CAMPINAS, BRAZIL

Elson Silva, PhD
Elson researches hydro- and thermo-dynamics online
Openness is certainly the most important issue simply because it bears a deep influence to the outcome of all others.

Freedom of expression already contrives a high level of responsibility, motivating all humans to use their ideas and knowledge on behalf of society.

Knowledge is the power of understanding and the internet just expands our reach of information and how to enjoy our precious lives.

Sir Isaac Newton developed differential calculus from a falling apple. Antoine Lavoisier, father of modern chemistry, applied economic ideas to alchemy creating the Equal Mass Law equation.

Using the internet, I have made my own advances in thermodynamics and hydrodynamics. What can it do for you?

There is big business behind internet security, profiting on minor malfunctions, system updates that keep the same faulty software functioning, preserving the sales of security products.

This is technology promising to exclude almost no one.
I think users are being scared in order to make them acquire security products.

Access is a natural process that matures with time as efficiency increases and prices go down.

Many sources of information and services are smoothly moving to the internet such as libraries, phones and TV.

With the development of online education, classrooms will be able to pull together students from far away countries or continents.

Accessibility has a strong foundation for expansion - it is delivering more meaningful information at a lower cost.

This is technology promising to exclude almost no one.

DAVID MOHAMMAD YAGHOOBI, TEHRAN, IRAN

David Mohammad Yaghoobi
David is a designer and blogger based in Tehran
"Tone down on the religion and politics", I am warned by my family.

"But my writing doesn't concern these topics", I protest.

"Just write less about it", they continue.

"Less than nothing?" I reply.

"Write about the weather", they suggest. Yet even the weather can be problematic to write about where I live.

As a blogger in a nation second only to China for internet censorship, "openness" is not something I can safely enjoy. The possible repercussions taint my every word.

Not only do I feel openness is the most important to me when considering the future of the internet, but I feel it is universally the more important of the four areas suggested.

The internet without openness or restrictions placed (certainly at state level) will surely hinder security and diversity, as well as stifle access.

Freedom of expression is a right recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and understood as important for human advancement.

With freedom of expression and the tools provided through the internet we can increase the available information and thus perspective, while most likely increasing its quality.

Yet unlike alternative mediums, an open internet offers the ability to act and organise, countering state-funded oppression and indoctrination.

The rare appearance of freak activities in this collective consciousness is a small price to pay for the vast amount we gain
With openness we are able to share methods, affording other citizens in other nations with the ability to increase important features of governance, like say accountability.

Frustratingly, I see the opposite. The internet filter system I experience is provided by American companies.

I'm puzzled that a nation recognising the UDHR is trading tools of censorship besides its sanctions.

If we are to be serious about curbing oppression then we must not undermine people's ability to release them from it.

The internet is an enlightening manifestation that shouldn't have elements hidden.

I feel that the rare appearance of freak activities in this collective consciousness is a small price to pay for the vast amount we gain.

We must strive for universal openness and protect it.

GAIL, SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA

Gail
Gail is a lifestyle and travel writer, based in Seoul
For me, the most important thing about the internet is the incredibly quick access to information at the touch of a button.

I particularly like the influence this can have for people who live in remote areas of the world, and the access to education which this could bring in the future (in some places this is already happening).

Although there are issues with content (nobody wants their child to explore the world of pornography while researching a school project, for example), I believe that openness and a lack of censorship is vital to the continued success of the internet.

I believe that more people are good than bad and so useful, informative, fun or educational material will ultimately triumph over the dross that is also on the web.

However, we should not forget that the internet is not accessible to everyone.

The West tends to think of the internet as a predominantly English-language tool
I am currently living in Seoul, studying Korean, and there are severe communication barriers when content appears in a different script.

Therefore, depending on jurisdictions (such as China), people might not enjoy the same freedom that those in the West have become used to.

The West tends to think of the internet as a global, predominantly English-language tool. But borders exist in the form of language and allowable content.

My personal view is that this is largely overlooked in arguments and discussions about the world wide web.

I hope that in the future we will develop tools to circumvent these problems and many websites will become multilingual as standard.




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