ENDitorial: Defending the Open Internet
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Deutsch: ENDitorial: Zur Verteidigung des Offenen Internets
At an event organised by Brussels think-tank Security and Defence Agenda, EDRi's advocacy coordinator debated freedom and security online with:
- Robert Madelin, Director General of DG Information Society of the
- Erika Mann, Member of the Board of ICANN and Vice President of the Computer and Communications Industry Association,
-Suleyman Anil, Head of the Cyber Defence Section of NATO.
This is EDRi's opening speech:
Thank you for the invitation to speak this evening on a topic that is of major importance to free speech, innovation and the economy.
The topic for discussion this evening is vast - so I will restrict myself to just six words from the programme - "cooperation between public and private actors".
The security of our fundamental rights is at risk when our activities are regulated by commercial whims. The security of the Internet as an asset for the global economy is at risk by the creation of virtual borders as disproportionate responses to new problems.
Ultimately, faced with unwanted behaviour online, there are only three options: accommodate it, address the unwanted activity itself or break the Internet.
Or rather, break what gives the Internet its value.
The Internet is of such value for the fundamental rights and the economy because of its openness - a true single market without border guards and iron curtains. This maximises the potential for communication and allows anyone to invent the next big thing. We cannot and must not destroy this openness simply because it is exploited by criminals.
Every effort at regulation creates borders. Every move to devolve policing activities to internet providers, domain name registrars, IP address registries or whoever drops another rotten apple into the barrel of free and open networks.
DG HOME of the European Commission and the FBI are working globally and domestically to recruit private internet operators like Wild West vigilantes - literally every single intermediary in the value chain of the Internet is being pressed into extra-judicial service. It is only the very core of the internet itself that has not yet been press ganged into service.
Only yesterday we discovered that the Council of Ministers is discussing the creation of a cyber "Chinese Wall" around Europe. This is far removed from the insightful statement in the recent European Commission Communication on net neutrality that "the internet owes much of its success to the fact that it is open and easily accessible."
Sadly, therefore, the Egyptian "kill switch" is nothing more than the end of the continuum that Europe and US are already rushing along. We are not there yet, but this is the path and this is the danger.
And much of this regulation is in response to complaints from industries that are out of step with the digital world. They are out of step with the digital world and, instead of adapting, they demand that the world move to their beat.
What few people realise is that this whole scenario has already happened. In the early nineties, some countries banned Internet telephony and filtered it out of their networks.
The result was a dream scenario for criminals, who exploited the high prices of the monopolies, smuggling voice calls over unlicenced dedicated lines and unlawfully hooking them into the national telephone network.
Then, along came Skype, with automatic encryption, the regulation became pointless and was repealed and all of the efforts to stop time to the benefit of fat old monopolies had failed. Business had lost out due to lack of competition. Citizens had lost out to high prices. Monopolies lost out by not being challenged to adapt to technological reality. Only the criminals won - bad regulation is oxygen for criminals and poison for fundamental rights.
Nowadays, it would be absurd to suggest a ban on Internet telephony - although some mobile operators would disagree. All fixed operators now accommodate Skype. They now make money from receiving calls generated on Skype. They have innovated, finally moved with the times and now exploit rather than seek to destroy the core value of the Internet.
If the same issues arose today, there would be demands for Skype.com to be blocked, deep packet inspection to search for Skype data packets. And Europol would be asking for public education campaigns to warn consumers about the links of internet telephony to organized crime.
After all, there was organised crime involvement in internet telephony, which means that all countermeasures are justified. A vicious circle of bad regulation leading to criminality leading to the excuse to maintain and re-enforce the bad legislation.
Now the outdated industry is the content industry. And we are faced with ever-more damaging enforcement measures for laws which are so utterly illegitimate in the eyes of citizens that infringements are, in the words of the European Commission, "ubiquitous".
Not that the content industry is alone - the same phenomenon is repeated to protect national gambling monopolies and tax receipts from national gambling operators. And all too often online child abuse is abused to push through policies that, while being useless for fighting child abuse, are subsequently recycled for commercial purposes.
Because of this, policing the edge of the network has become more difficult. Slowly but surely, the enforcement measures are moving deeper into the network, first pushing Internet providers to police their own consumers and now, increasingly, using the structure of the Internet itself to vainly try to fight infringements created by illegitimate law.
And again we are faced with filtering, again we are faced with blocking of websites and again regulators seek to accommodate rusty old industries.
The good news is that it is possible to have a public electronic communications network that has no copyright infringements
- We had it with AOL, whose closed walled garden approach was unable to compete with the openness, flexibility and innovation of the Internet
- We had it with CompuServe, whose closed walled garden approach also could not survive the Internet's openness,
- We had it with Minitel, which proved that a network where the telecoms company has full control of access to its customers is uncompetitive and can only fail.
Excessive, badly targeted and counter-productive regulation is the biggest security threat that the citizens and the online economy faces.
We must work together to defend the open internet.
We must work together to support legislation that demands innovation rather than facilitating stagnation.
We must work together to defend the rule of law, faced with efforts to put our freedoms in the unwilling hands of internet intermediaries.
(contribution by Joe McNamee - EDRi)