ENDitorial: Defending the Open Internet

By EDRi · May 4, 2011

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [ENDitorial: Zur Verteidigung des Offenen Internets | http://www.unwatched.org/EDRigram_9.9_ENDitorial_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
European Commission,
– 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

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

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

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)