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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 15:15 GMT
Reporter's Log: Internet Governance Forum
The future of the net is under discussion at the first-ever Internet Governance Forum in Athens.

The four-day event started on Monday and has been set up by the United Nations to give companies, governments, organisations and individuals the space to debate what should happen to the net in the coming years.

BBC News website Technology editor Darren Waters is reporting from the conference as it happens.

1700 Athens (1500 GMT) TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER

The Internet Governance Forum is inviting people to take part via blogs, chatrooms and e-mail.

There is a very good community site here.

There you can watch and listen to the main sessions live, as well as leave comments in chatrooms which are picked up and referred to in the main debates.

It's an attempt to be inclusive and open beyond the confines of Athens - although the efforts have been somewhat hampered by indifferent net access within the conference itself.

There have been some interesting and informed blogs on the site, including one left by a delegate at the conference.

"Thanks for wasting my time," was the headline of one of the blogs.

"Basically, we were confronted with three hours of discussion of which two and a half focused on bashing China... intertwined every now and then by BBC advertising on how nice they are," wrote the blogger.

That's a rather harsh view of what I feel was an interesting session.

But it proves there are lots of different views about how the IGF is progressing.

1600 ATHENS (1400 GMT) TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER

Security is the focus of the afternoon's main session at the Internet Governance Forum.

But security means different things to different people.

To panellist Gus Hosein, of the London School of Economics, security is intertwined with identity online.

To Terayasu Murakami, chief counsellor of Nomura Research Institute, the issue should be focused on those causing security problems. He said: "Most of the effort goes on educating the victim, but it is the victimisers we should deal with.

One of the delegates said the issue was the physical security of the net, complaining that the severance of a sea cable caused huge connectivity problems in Sudan, where he is based.

And Rikke Frank Joergensen, from the Danish Institute for Human Rights, said: "The privacy protection of the individual is a security matter. It's very important we have privacy protection upfront."

Christiaan van der Valk, who runs a small Swedish security firm, said the increasing amounts of governmental legislation around security was having a negative effect, creating more problems than it was solving.

For almost every person in the chamber there was a different perspective on security.

Issues such as spam and viruses are critical in countries such as the UK and US, but security to people in Africa is much more about access to the net.

"We have a huge inventory, perhaps too long for us to deal with adequately in the time remaining," said moderator Ken Cukier.

Mr Murakami said: "It is perhaps no use to specify the issues we face because they are always changing."

"The level of security issues is growing faster than the systems that are designed to tackle them," said Malcolm Harbour, MEP.

He said the important issue was communicating solutions as quickly as possible.

"So many incidents and problems with citizens go largely unreported," he said.

But Ilias Chantzos, Symantec's head of government relations, said the growth in the information society reflected the fact the industry was doing well with solving security problems.

"We can't have 100% security. It is an evolving target.

He added: "People are often the weakest link. We're doing okay."

But Gus Hosein accused the debate of being too general.

"We are speaking in an overly generalist manner. We need to get into specifics."

He cited the hypothetical example of the US requesting information from a French ISP to do with crime.

"Countries must cooperate to combat crime. It makes sense.

"But if the USA asks for specific information from a French ISP, it might turn out that they want information on gambling. Gambling isn't illegal in France.

"That's where you see the richness of the problem and the complexity of the issue."

1230 ATHENS (1030 GMT) TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER

China bashing was how one delegate described the tone of the morning's session on openness.

Of course, where issues around freedom of expression are being discussed, China is an obvious talking point. And people were very keen to talk.

At one point a Chinese government official stood up to defend his country.

He said: "We should spend more time reflecting on issues that have been raised.

"There are many millions of Chinese that have no access to the internet and our deepest hope is that they will in the future. That they can communicate. And take part in the future."

He added: "We are here because we want to talk about openness. But have not discussed how we could participate more fully and have better access."

He had some very interesting comments on the subject of China restricting information and arresting bloggers and journalists.

"In China we don't have software blocking internet sites. Sometimes we have trouble accessing them but that is a different problem.

"We do not have restrictions at all.

"Some people say journalists in China have been arrested. We have hundreds of journalists in China and few have been arrested. This has nothing to do with freedom of expression.

"We have criminals in our society. There are criminals in all society."

Earlier in the debate the BBC's director of global news Richard Sambrook had pointed out that the BBC's news services and radio programmes on shortwave were blocked in China.

But the Chinese government official disagreed: "I know some people who listen to BBC in their offices.

"I don't know why people say the BBC is blocked."

His comments provoked some laughter among the delegates, especially when he defended the purchase of router equipment from companies such as Cisco.

"Everyone knows there is a lot of tourism in China. We need to also protect tourists in our country.

"I feel I need to be protected. We are threatened by terrorism. We do need protection

"We should make sure that everybody can come to China, enjoy our beautiful country.

"I don't think we should be using different standards to judge China."

Fred Tipson, Microsoft's senior policy counsel, said the internet was "transforming the political culture of China".

"There is no question about it. There are courageous people pushing the envelope of politics but also courageous people in government.

"There is not a monolithic determination to suppress the internet in China."

1100 ATHENS (0900 GMT) TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER

Almost inevitably, big business has come under attack for its approach to human rights when doing deals with countries such as China.

Microsoft and Cisco have defended their business practices in China and I'll be writing more about their response on the website later.

Catherine Trautmann, Member of the European Parliament, said the EU could be doing more to put pressure on companies to behave ethically.

"We have asked these manufacturers of software and equipment to keep in mind that users of the internet should also be protected," she said.

0900 ATHENS (0700 GMT) TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER

I've been reading your comments sent into the Have Your Say team about the Internet Governance Forum.

Two comments caught my eye.

Peter Byrd from the UK wrote: "Who cares about the paraded expression free ideas and thinking because it is just text on a screen to me. I am influenced by the real world not junk on a screen."

And Marcel from the Hague wrote: "I'd like to see governments banned from interfering with "the internet" altogether. I don't need some Muslim cleric or Chinese bureaucrat telling me what I can and cannot see.

"The way it is now is fine. Icann and USA control is much better than any alternative. Especially the UN, which is the only organisation more useless than the EU."

There are many here who would be outraged by both suggestions, not least Peter's opinion that the internet is not the real world.

Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders are both here to highlight the cases of bloggers who have been arrested in countries like China for expressing their views online.

And there are some here who feel that the US needs to relinquish control over the net if it is to become a global, democratic tool for all.

One thing that is not in short supply in Athens right now is opinions.

0800 ATHENS (0600 GMT) TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER

The second day of the Internet Governance Forum starts shortly with the focus on openness and security.

It would appear the forum is already heeding lessons for the first day. Net access at the conference has improved immeasurably, delegates can now e-mail and text questions to the panel rather than having to pass notes, and the unwieldy nature of sessions is being re-organised into something more of a debate.

Aside from the main sessions, there are a number of small workshops that are focused on the key themes of the day.

One of the workshops taking place later this afternoon on the subject of freedom of expression looks intriguing, not least because it features representatives from Reporters Without Borders and the Chinese government.

It should be an interesting clash - if it goes ahead as planned.

At the moment the representative from the Chinese government is listed only as "To Be Announced".

1800 ATHENS (1600 GMT)

"We are long on words but short on ideas," said Ken Cukier of the Economist, the chair of the afternoon session, in deliberately provocative fashion.

It was a statement echoed by an audience member Jeremy Malcom, from Murdoch University in Australia.

"How can we move beyond discussion?" he asked, saying IGF's founding principles required the forum to reach recommendations.

But not everyone in the room agreed.

Lynn St Amour, chief executive of professional body Internet Society said the purpose of IGF was dialogue not recommendations.

"I don't think IGF is about recommendations; it's not inclusive enough.

"Four days is not enough time for people to believe we have addressed the technological, political, social and cultural ramifications of something that is so vast like the internet."

She suggested that governance of the net had to be made local in order to be effective.

Panellist Karen Banks of the Association For Progressive Communications said the forum had to make the connection between the local, national and global if it were going to be effective.

She said: "We all want the IGF to be influential but how is the IGF going to influence other spaces that intersect with our interests of internet governance?

"Surely we can come up with some influential thinking and ideas."

It was a plea which drew a line under the first day of the IGF, an introductory day that was long on rhetoric but short on substance.

1645 ATHENS (1445 GMT)

The afternoon session of the Internet Governance Forum is underway.

It's a rather awkward and unwieldy forum - with 15 people representing major hi-tech organisations or policy makers, sat on a panel in front of the audience.

Questions are being posed by a chair and presented to the panel from the audience and from bloggers around the world.

The exercise is described as a "multi-stakeholder" event, which means that everyone has their own perspective and viewpoint about the future governance and shape of the net.

The ambitious hope of the United Nations is that by bringing people together a consensus on the net's future can be reached.

But it's clear that individual countries' perspectives of the net and the market-led priorities of the private sector often means people are driving in different directions even if, on occasions, everyone sounds like they are heading for the same place.

For example - try to guess the author of this statement delivered to the IGF:

"We are devoted to a policy of developing the internet. Our approach is to balance development with security.

"It is necessary to respect the need for the security of internet content according to law.

"We have to make sure that in terms of laws that there's a freedom of communication and no threat to state security or to the healthy psychological development of juveniles."

That answer could have been delivered by any of the different government representatives, commercial bodies or organisations attending the forum.

But the answer is Yin Chen, China's director general, department of foreign affairs, ministry of information industry.

The broad principles he advocates would be supported by everyone here in Athens but the interpretation remains clouded.

And at the moment, no-one is talking interpretation.

1500 ATHENS (1300 GMT)

There were no questions taken during the first session at the IGF, which was given over to speeches from key figures such as the Greek prime minister.

One of my colleagues asked the organisers what the format would be when questions are taken: Can we blog them? Or send them by instant message? Shall we e-mail them? Or perhaps raise a hand?

The preferred method, it turns out, is to write your query on a piece of paper then hand it forward along the rows.

A moderator will then take receipt of your question before having it translated into all the relevant languages. Only then will your question be considered.

It's an interesting solution to an issue of communication in the digital age.

But perhaps a rather old fashioned solution at a conference on the future of the internet.

1400 ATHENS (1200 GMT)

One of the biggest draws on the opening morning of the IGF was Vint Cerf, one of the "fathers of the net". He and Robert Kahn, who was also attending the forum, were the creators of Internet Protocol, the backbone to the internet.

Mr Cerf is now chief internet evangelist for Google, among other roles, and one of the most respected speakers in the technology world.

After his speech I approached him for an interview - the fruits of which will be published later today or Tuesday as a feature.

I wanted more detail on his speech, in which he outlined his vision that the net remains interoperable no matter where or how you access it.

I'd taken down as much of it as my shorthand allowed but wanted clarification on some points.

Without any fuss, Mr Cerf produced a USB memory stick from his pocket and invited me to take a copy of his speech and then walked off, promising to return shortly.

Now that's what you call an evangelist.

1230 ATHENS (1030 GMT)

It did not take long before the thorny issue of who "governs" the internet raised its head at the forum. It's an issue that simply won't go away.

Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, one of the bodies sometimes tipped as a potential overseer of the net, said there remained a "lack of consensus on internet governance".

"There is a camp who will claim that on certain issues there is no need to discuss because things are working quite well," he said.

"Another camp disagrees, saying this is an attempt to avoid debate because there are no problems.

"To me it is obvious that if these issues were really settled then there would be no reason to create IGF."

Mr Utsumi said that in order to respond to the needs of users "matters should be handled at level closer to the user".

He said: "Any central role should have only subsidiary function handling only those tasks that cannot be handled at a local level.

"The internet cannot be treated separately from rest of society and the economy."

He predicted: "The internet will in due course not be governed or regulated in a way that is fundamentally different from the way other things are governed."

He added: "Internet governance is inevitably local rather than global. The best approach is different for each society and economy."

1145 ATHENS (0945 GMT)

The transport minister was followed by a welcome from the Greek prime minister, Konstantinos Karamanlis.

He highlighted the digital divide and said special emphasis should be put on building the net and its infrastructure in developing countries.

"Everyone should have equal opportunities to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge in order to understand, participate actively in, and benefit fully from the internet and the economy of knowledge."

Mr Karamanlis urged the conference to produce and distribute more ideas like Nicholas Negroponte's $100 laptop project.

He warned about the problems of the "digitally homeless".

"Our attention should turn eventually to the more vulnerable groups of society - migrants, refugees, unemployed and under privileged people, young people, senior citizens, persons with special needs."

1130 ATHENS (0930 GMT)

The IGF conference is underway - only 75 minutes behind schedule. The Greek transport and communications minister Michalis Liapis opened the conference, underlining the importance of the IGF.

"We embraced the IGF because we believe in a vision of a global society where the internet will build bridges between cultures and people," Mr Liapis said.

The minister said the IGF's role was to turn the digital divide into a digital opportunity for all people.

"The internet is the start of a vast overhaul of our society which will take several decades to complete," he said.

Mr Liapis also took the opportunity to bang the drum for Greece - highlighting the country's internet growth.

He also warned that "we shouldn't allow a rupture in normal communications between human beings".

"We should not allow internet to lead to their physical isolation," he said.

1100 ATHENS (0900 GMT)

If news from the first-ever Internet Governance Forum feels more of a trickle than a gush then that is probably something to do with the atrocious net problems being suffered at the conference.

As the conference began a hundred laptops were opened almost simultaneously and the wi-fi connection serving the hotel promptly fell over.

As I write this I have no idea whether or not I will be able to even send this log back.

Similar problems beset the IGF's predecessor, the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis last year.

It highlights one reality - if the United Nations' own forum on the future of the internet is not able to successfully manage a decent connection for journalists and delegates in a western European country, how on earth are developing nations supposed to roll out ambitious net plans for the unconnected?

1030 ATHENS (0830 GMT)

The Internet Governance Forum has only just started but already there is controversy surrounding freedom of speech online.

There are several reports on the blogosphere that the Greek authorities arrested a man last week for linking to blog posts hosted in America that satirise a Greek businessman.

Antonis Tsipropoulos was arrested, say reports, for linking to a website which satires Dimostenis Liakopoulos, a Greek tele-evangelist.

Mr Tsipropoulos is the administrator for a Greek blog search engine, called blogme.gr.

Bloggers are describing this as a "spectacular own goal" by the Greek authorities, especially given the fact the country's prime minister Konstantinos Karamanlis and minister of transport and communication, Michalis Liapis, are attending the IGF's opening ceremony.

0900 ATHENS (0700 GMT)

"It won't work this year, perhaps next year."

That is the assessment of one delegate at the Internet Governance Forum, before even a single word on the future of the net has been uttered.

It's an indication of the widespread uncertainty that surrounds the IGF.

How will it work? Will people embrace the idea of a forum where talk is cheap but no decisions are made?

More than 1,500 people representing governments, companies, organisations and themselves are here - far in excess of the numbers the organisers were expecting.

The main hall of the forum holds only 800 so it will be interesting to see what happens with the early sessions.

The hope is that by bringing every stakeholder in the internet together in one place that consensus on issues such as cybercrime, security, spam, freedom of expression etc can be reached and fed back to the people that make decisions about the net in their respective countries.

But as that slightly pessimistic, or perhaps pragmatic delegate, told me: "Even if a unified position is reached on an issue there is no mechanism to reflect it."

The IGF in Athens is just the first year of a five-year process initiated by the United Nations and there is hope that the forum could one day become the single most important body for governance of the internet.

But perhaps not this year...





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