On Internet Governance

[ Written for Simon Says column on Computer World UK ]

After Germany refused asylum to digital rights hero Edward Snowden, whose physical resemblance with my cousin could only lead to an increased empathy from my side, I must confess that I was darkly amused when Angela Merkel discovered her mobile phone was itself subject to NSA monitoring. Her sudden interest in Internet governance and her foolish ambition to launch a European Internet was reminiscent of a child discovering Father Christmas does not exist; she finally understood that she had been manipulated all that time, keeping her eyes closed while more and more citizens were expressing concerns about their privacy.

Merkel is far from being stupid and got one point right though. Whereas the solution she is suggesting is rather awkward, reminding us of the Chinese approach, Internet governance is indeed the hidden issue behind all others and must become a prime topic of citizen awareness. Massive surveillance, copyright enforcement, net discrimination and censorship are sadly small-beer compared to the question of who holds the keys of the world-wide web, among whom the ICANN, mainly controlled by the US government, plays a major role – as highlighted by the European Commission last month.

“We need to re-decentralise the web”, said Internet pioneer Tim Berners Lee at a recent event organised by Wired Magazine. “It’s important to have the geek community as a whole think about its responsibility and what it can do”. How can this happen? The question remains open. A Balkanised web with data stored locally only on servers physically in the country where the customer resides would certainly be the biggest mistake for governments to make. With strong advocacy of such an idea from Brazil, and an upcoming summit in Sao Paulo on the Future of Internet Governance, we must remain very careful. Politicians as one might notice are just just like kids and luggage; never leave them unattended…