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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 16:41 GMT
Readers' panel: The first IGF
Delegates at the world's first global Internet Governance Forum are packing away their laptops in Athens.

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

Among the highlights of the forum were a proposed bill of rights for the internet, a youth panel for the future, a petition from Amnesty Intenational to campaign for freedom of expression and how to limit spam.

Our panel of readers are drawn from around the world, respond here to issues raised by the IGF, our Reporter's Log, and your comments.

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
The issues being discussed at the forum are the same issues facing people in the non-digital society.

This is a frontier just like the new world. Societies are exploring them.

I am seeing many people who are suppressed by their governments. That is an issue with that government not the internet.

Some examples:

Your household has an internet connection. You run some sort of firewall to keep bad guys out.

You may also block certain sites from your children's prying eyes using various types of software.

Are you suppressing your children's access to the internet?

Are you limiting the poor bad guys' access to your personal resources?

Your company has an internet connection. Again you must have a firewall solution.

You probably have network partitioning schemes to keep any bad guy who manages to get in contained in an area that they can do the least damage possible.

You may have employees that are giving away company secrets.

This could hurt your company and the welfare of all of the good employees and their ability to have a job ultimately, just as an intruder could do damage or steal information that could ruin your company.

Are you suppressing the bad guy?

Do you limit and monitor the access of your employees to use the internet?

Human rights are a logical and needed extension into the digital world.
These are questions of security and borders. Countries and societies are moving to set up borders in the new virtual world. Again this is a logical extension of human society into the digital world.

I am not saying that abuses of freedoms do not exist or are not happening.

I am saying that these are issues that exist with societies, not the internet itself.

The internet is still young and not matured just like the American Wild West or any frontier.

It is being explored, we are lucky to be here in a time like this, and have the ability to assist in its shaping.

I hope beyond hope that the good guys win out in both the real and digital worlds for the sake of all people.

Human rights are a logical and needed extension into the digital world.

GABRIEL KALONDE CHINGWE, LUSAKA, ZAMBIA

Gabriel Kalonde Chingwe
Gabriel works in Zambia's private sector and travels regularly
As the first UN-sponsored Internet Governance Forum (IGF) draws to a close one cannot help but realise that the internet and/or the world wide web is a monster created fifteen years ago and which no country in the world will single-handedly be able to control.

Reading and listening to the proceedings of this conference there have been fantastic issues that have come up for example, the proposed bill of rights, how to tackle spam and the integration of the world's six thousand languages onto the net.

Because we are discussing the future of the internet, I think for Africa our priority should be how can the internet and the web be used to help stem global warming.

Climate change is currently very topical with scientists predicting that temperatures will rise by 2-4% by the end of this century.

Economists have calculated that the global economy will slow down by 20% soon if climate change is not immediately addressed.

Hence this conference should outline how internet can be used in future to perhaps forecast severe weather patterns and communicate this to the majority of vulnerable people in good time for them to make contingency plans.

Industrial nations that flout environmental laws can be tracked down and punished using the internet
It has been projected that Africa will be severely adversely affected by global warming and remedial measures should be taken urgently by the industrialized nations to prevent catastrophic results.

We know scientists already use the internet and satellite technology to predict and forecast weather patterns but perhaps the huge industrial nations that flout the Kyoto protocol and other international environmental laws can be tracked down and punished using global digital technology via the internet.

If the world continues to gloss over environmental issues now the results will be more catastrophic than even HIV/AIDS and malaria which are currently the greatest killers of mankind.

KAREN INDA, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

Karen Inda
Although based in Europe, Karen is currently in the UAE
The issue of equal access to the internet worldwide, especially in developing countries, is a very complicated one.

Access to clean water, food security, desertification, malaria, AIDS...these are the real problems affecting the developing world.

I am therefore surprised that Greek Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis feels that internet access is so important in developing countries.

"Digitally homeless" people, "vulnerable" groups who are not online, have more to worry about than checking e-mail, reading news online or blogging.

Besides, illiteracy rates in the developing world would seriously hamper any effort to ensure no one is left behind.

What good is a laptop if you can't read?

Let's try to fix the more pressing problems first
How can you keep your laptop charged if the country you live in has, at best, sporadic electricity?

How can you participate in all the web has to offer if you don't know where your next meal is coming from, or if you have to walk ten miles each way, barefoot, to the nearest well?

The idea of "building the net and its infrastructure in developing countries" is all well and good, but the people of those countries have much bigger problems than not being able to get online.

Let's try to fix the more pressing problems first, before we worry about getting wi-fi to Darfur.

ELSON SILVA, PhD, CAMPINAS, BRAZIL

Elson Silva, PhD
Elson researches hydro- and thermo-dynamics online
Certainly the main objective of IGF in Athens is to develop a deep understanding and comprehension of the internet to increase self-reliance and explore new boundaries.

The internet provides ever-more convergent ways of living. The process is unstoppable.

In principle, people with higher knowledge are too wise and independent to collude with distorted power. Also, power curtailed of knowledge is doomed to failure since knowledge leads to the precise boundaries of coherence and respect to reasoning.

The future of the internet is on the right tracks because coherent knowledge is guaranteed to reach multiple, achievable solutions to any problems raised.

The internet was born from chaos and is trying, retrospectively, to organize itself.

Chaos has a variable randomness with prevailing structures and the internet is imitating that.

There is nothing special about the internet beyond humans having a better chance to bond together
The internet endorses honesty and balance but not necessarily democracy since a rogue country is leading to starvation while a bully country is driving to obesity.

Freedom of expression can be a false magic, honesty can end up being even more important. Brazilians gained freedom of expression after a dictatorship era. It was endowed the rights to complain and the media to profit openly but corruption is always growing and corroding around 20% of public assets making a rich country full of poor people.

Sexual content on the internet can be important. It is part of our creation and way of reproducing ourselves. It can lead us to learning more about sensuality and less on profiting from human nature.

My message to IGF is that there is nothing special about the internet beyond humans having a better chance to bond together, not clashing cultures but molding a new advanced one with a unique language and race, less governance, no mysticism and a duty to balance human existence with the environment.

DAVID MOHAMMAD YAGHOOBI, TEHRAN, IRAN

David Mohammad Yaghoobi
David is a designer and blogger based in Tehran
I'm not sure what to add, especially to the Reporter's Log - it seemed to bring to our attention the vast scope of the internet and the evolving problems, at one point quoting a participant in saying that problems are arriving faster than solutions.

My guess is that the IGF will undergo a few years of teething problems as participants settle on authority and hierarchy issues thus leading to progress and taking care of the task in hand.

There was also a part about underwater cables to Africa I think... that could be a lot of cable!

Regarding the proposed bill of rights, the net filtering I experience while in Iran is done so using American made software (sold by Americans).

I am confused that a nation who is an 'observer' of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would sell software that restricts the Iranian people's abilty to interact in the World Wide Web.

It is a human right to have freedom of expression but filtering software hinders the possibility
I relate this to article 19 in the UDHR as it is considered a human right to have freedom of expression but filtering software hinders the possibility.

Would companies simply ignore a bill of rights in the same way?

Like arms sales to dictators. Ok, ok, but more subtle.

I should add that the UDHR is not legally binding and serves only as a means of diplomatic pressure.

It is not therefore illegal but rather bad play on the American's front. What legality would a bill of rights hold?

I am confident that this is strategic play on the part of American interest.

An educated and active Iranian public is more worrying to the USA than to the government of Iran I'm sure.

GAIL, SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA

Gail
Gail is a lifestyle and travel writer, based in Seoul
From the Reporter's Log and published reports about the IGF, it seems that even organising a forum on this subject presents many problems because of the complexity of the subject.

The internet is full of contradictions - we worry about security but also about openness - and any solutions will have to be full of compromise.

Does security mean corporate self-interest or public protection?

How can you effectively attack an invisible enemy? What, specifically, are the security issues? What possible solutions are there?

I think that branding and domain control will inevitably become more important in the future.

When we use the internet, we often search for information, but since there are really no controls on what information goes on line, you can never be sure if the information is correct and up to date.

Users must evaluate information for themselves, which is a value judgement and occasionally a frustrating waste of time.

Segmentation of the internet is a natural development and will, perhaps, make the internet more manageable - by dividing it into smaller chunks.

It will be almost impossible to find a way to control content without people screaming "censorship"
The potential problem with this, of course, is that different sections may not co-operate, reducing one of the internet's key advantages - its global reach.

It is good that forums such as these are conducted.

However, while I think that every user is treated as a stakeholder in these debates, I wonder whether there should be some form of rating applied to their input.

Because the internet is such a free medium people tend to have a horror of controlling the information flows.

The internet needs some form of control, but it will be almost impossible to find a way to control content without people screaming "censorship" which has such negative connotations.




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