• Sweden edition
 
Stockholm Internet Forum
'The future of freedom on the internet is at stake'

'The future of freedom on the internet is at stake'

Published: 21 May 2013 15:12 GMT+02:00
Updated: 21 May 2013 15:12 GMT+02:00

Internet policy experts gather in Stockholm this week to grapple with online data protection and surveillance issues that everyone who surfs the web should care about, reports technologist Stefan Geens.

Here's why the Stockholm Internet Forum is the most important conference you've never heard of.

This week sees 450 policy-oriented technologists from 90 countries meet at the Stockholm Internet Forum, a two-day conference hosted by Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its aid agency Sida, and .SE, the foundation responsible for Sweden's internet infrastructure.

Experts from civil society, government and business will tackle "Internet freedom for global development" and its security implications. If this sounds like the typical capacity-building aid summit, it’s not — the stakes are in fact much higher. This forum is not (just) about promoting an inclusive and open internet in the developing world; it is also about ensuring a free and secure internet in Sweden.

That’s because these days, laws in countries from halfway around the world can affect you directly via your browser. Consider:

*Many of the best internet companies are American, subject to US law. When you trust your email correspondence to Gmail or Facebook, it is US law that protects your privacy. Bad laws, like the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) currently stalled in the US Senate, would allow law enforcement agencies to access your data without a warrant.

*Some countries, such as Russia, turn a blind eye to cyber criminals as long as they target users outside their jurisdictions, giving these gangs a safe haven from which to attack, scam and spam. Their presence also provides plausible deniability for state-sponsored cyber attacks and espionage, such as the 2007 attack on Estonia's banking system.

*China's government requires backdoor access to the contents of popular Chinese messaging services like QQ, TOM-Skype and WeChat. . Connect via Skype to a user in China and your private conversation will be an open book, no matter where you are.

Still, the primary victims of delinquent internet governance policies are most often local users: China's sophisticated online censorship system has made much of the global internet off-limits to its citizens. South Korea's real name registration policy makes it harder for whistleblowers and sources to stay anonymous online. Internet kill switches allow dictators to single-handedly drag their county back into the eighties.

Sometimes, European and American firms contribute to the problem by selling surveillance tools to authoritarian regimes. One such company, Gamma International, let its tools be used spy on the political opposition in Egypt, Bahrain and Malaysia. In 2012, Belarus was caught spying on dissidents using equipment installed and maintained by Sweden's own Teliasonera.

Growing public intolerance for such practices is having an effect, at least in the West: This year, TeliaSonera signed on to industry-wide guidelines for defending freedom of expression and privacy.

These and many other examples over the past decade have prompted a movement towards global norms for internet governance. It's this process that the organizers of the Stockholm Internet Forum are trying to shape, by keeping human rights concerns at the centre of the debate about internet security.

The core message is that internet governance should ultimately serve the citizen-user, rather than the interests of states or corporations. And yet even liberal democracies sometimes get this wrong, drafting overbearing security laws that gut the internet of the freedoms that make it worthwhile.

There have been some successes on the human rights front. In 2011, a United Nations report by the special rapporteur Frank La Rue delineated how human rights law applies to online notions of freedom and privacy. In 2012, Sweden and other nations sponsored a successful non-binding UN Human Rights Council resolution affirming "that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online".

Of course, the same countries that prey on the rights of people offline tend to do so online, using the same excuses.

Today, the situation remains precarious. There are two strongly opposed visions for how best to proceed with internet governance at the global level. The incumbent arrangement sees responsibilities shared among many actors — technical foundations, corporations, governments, civil society NGOs — none of which individually control the process.

The main policy-setting forum for this multi-stakeholder model is the annual Internet Governance Forum, championed by civil society organizations for its inclusive nature, even if the internet's core technical policy body, ICANN, remains based in the US.

In the other camp is a slew of countries — predominantly from Africa and Asia — who feel that the current system is too Western and, well, democratic. In their vision, internet policy is the sovereign right of states, with centralized, top-down control within national borders and multilateral treaties governing connectivity globally. Prominent backers of this model are Russia, China, Tajikistan, and Saudi Arabia - they recently began promoting the UN's International Telecommunication Union as a state-centric policymaking body for the internet. As a result, much of Europe and North America refused to sign the latest ITU regulatory agreement in December 2012. Many more countries did sign, however. The internet may yet balkanize.

The ball is now in the court of those attending the Stockholm Internet Forum, most of whom defend the multi-stakeholder model of governance. Ideas on the table include making the distributed governance model even more inclusive of Asian and African stakeholders, since that is where most of the world's internet users now reside.

Another proposal is to recast security concerns as compatible with human rights, by redefining security from the perspective of the user. In this same vein, several NGOs have just proposedprinciples for Internet surveillance that would be compatible with human rights. The hope is to win over the fence-sitters in this emerging global schism by convincing them that a freedom-centric internet is the only path to a mature and developed global information society.

If the internet freedom movement is to prevail, it needs more opportunities to debate strategy, generate ideas and strengthen its networks. The Stockholm Internet Forum may just make the difference.

Follow the conference live on May 22nd-23rd via video and via the #sif13 hashtag on Twitter.

Stefan Geens is a technologist at Söderhavet, the award-winning strategic digital design firm. Based in Stockholm, he writes about digital cartography at Ogle Earth and Internet freedom at Dliberation.

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'Baffling' Swedish raid on German sub makers
The Kockums Malmö shipyard and FMV headquarters. Files: TT

'Baffling' Swedish raid on German sub makers

After the Swedish military raided the Malmö premises of German defence giant Thyssen Krupp, a military expert tells The Local why recent Russian aggression means Sweden's Saab needs to take control of national submarine production. READ () »

Swedish kids crack adult content 'code' at school
A child, unrelated to the story, on her computer. File photo: TT

Swedish kids crack adult content 'code' at school

Swedish parents who busted their children looking at adult content online were shocked to find the kids saying 'they'd learned the code at school'. READ () »

Industry bellwether SKF recovers to turn profit
A file image of ballbearings. Photo: Shutterstock

Industry bellwether SKF recovers to turn profit

After a drab end to 2013, Swedish ballbearing makers SKF anew posted a profit in its first quarter review. It could spell good news for the manufacturing industry worldwide. READ () »

Swedish Hobbit actor jailed in cocaine case
Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt. File photo: TT

Swedish Hobbit actor jailed in cocaine case

Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt has appealed a five-month prison sentence, handed down on Tuesday after he was found guilty of buying cocaine. READ () »

Property of the Week
In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
The property in Skinskatteberg. Photo: Fastighetsbyrån

In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week

The Swedish countryside is littered with small second homes, many up for a steal if you can see beyond dated wallpaper and imagine a country retreat with chanterelles and lingonberries growing in your backyard. READ () »

Puppies lost in 'black market' chihuahua raid
A chihuahua papillon crossbreed puppy. File photo: Shutterstock

Puppies lost in 'black market' chihuahua raid

Thieves escaped from a flat in Malmö on Monday with jewellery, electronics, and four chihuahua-papillon puppies. Police worry the dogs will be sold on the black market, a growing trend in Sweden. READ () »

JobTalk Sweden
Sweden's worst office clichés revealed

Sweden's worst office clichés revealed

"We have to hit the brakes and the gas at the same time." Does your Swedish boss confuse you? You're not alone. Swedes have crowned that phrase as the worst workplace cliché of the year. READ () »

More Swedes want to join Nato

More Swedes want to join Nato

Almost one in three Swedes support joining Nato, compared with just 17 percent in 2013, a survey revealed on Tuesday. The sentiment was echoed by the Finnish Prime Minister. READ () »

Elections 2014
Is the PM overstaying his welcome?
Kinberg Batra (L) next to the prime minister. File photo: TT

Is the PM overstaying his welcome?

Seen both as a statesman and a normal guy, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has a solid standing, despite his government's poor poll ratings. But have the Moderates prepared for life post-Reinfeldt? And does his successor matter to the voters? READ () »

Op-Ed
'Six-hour work day will hurt Sweden'

'Six-hour work day will hurt Sweden'

The six hour workday would punish employers who already struggle to find competent staff. And if parts of the economy slow down, so will industries reliant on them, argues liberal commentator Nima Sanandaji. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
TT
Politics
Swedes to give six-hour workday a go
Advertisement:
TT
Society
Aussie choir member wows Abba in Sweden
YouTube
Society
Stockholm magic a surprise YouTube hit
Fastighetsbyrån
Society
Gallery: The Local's Property of the Week
Private
Society
Swedes find 200-year-old gravestone in living room
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Deepti Vashisht
Features
Deepti Vashisht dissects the magic of Sweden's personal ID number
Shutterstock
Society
Ten signs you've been in Sweden too long
Society
Jimi Fritze heard every word when doctors discussed taking his organs
Society
A Swedish farmer explains why the new bestiality ban is 'pointless'
Society
'Blondes have more brains': Swedish study
TT
Society
VIDEO: Leaked 'Save Slussen' film goes viral
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching, March 28-30
ESL
Sponsored Article
Learning Swedish the easy way
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

721
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com