016_G18_InSight_GlobalSociety

Global_18

Global Insight Information Society Technology companies can be legally obligated to turn over user data to the governments of countries they have a physical presence in are poor and disempowered. At the root of that is that they don’t have a say and they don’t have access to information. That was a constant theme in my career and getting involved with internet issues was just the most recent iteration that that quest has taken for me,” Jellema says. Internet broadband is becoming increasingly available worldwide, but cost remains a barrier to access for many people in the developing world. The Web Foundation sees the issue of affordable access as being just as important to the web’s future as freedom of expression and online privacy. “One thing that absolutely every country can do is ensure that there’s healthy competition in every segment of the market so that prices can drop to a level that almost everybody can afford.” She suggests that a comparison may be drawn with access to water or electricity: no one expects the state to provide these utilities for free and, in fact, there is a lot of benefit to having a market in something like electricity. But there is a social case in saying that, In 2011, UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue was reported as having designated access to the internet as a basic human right for very poor people, even a low cost for electricity can inhibit their use of it, while a lack of affordable water can result in outbreaks of cholera. A lack of affordable internet access does not result in outbreaks of disease, but it does impact on education and livelihoods. “You see that people who do have access to the internet have a huge advantage over those who don’t, in any area from walking to work to being able to influence policies,” Jellema explains. In 2011, UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue was reported as having designated access to the internet as a basic human right. To date, Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, France and Greece have enshrined universal access to the internet in legislation, while Spain has guaranteed to offer reasonably priced access to its citizens. But while internet access can go a long way towards propagating the development agenda, Jellema warns that we shouldn’t see it as the be all and end all. “It’s a mistake to think of technology as a silver bullet or panacea, but the interesting thing about the internet is that it enables people to connect, not just to information but to one another, so much more easily and quickly and extensively than was ever possible before,” Jellema says. “So if you think about situations where it is both very difficult and very dangerous even for people to organise and to try to speak out and take action, the internet can change that in all kinds of interesting ways.” Those in developing countries have been able to utilise the internet for a variety of grassroots initiatives, from online community radio to small business start-ups and charities. But these opportunities are under threat from ISPs, which are able to discriminate between different types of traffic on grounds of profitability. The principle of net neutrality prohibits such bias and, if it is respected, it allows a huge amount of innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish online. But if it isn’t, then the market for internet services becomes dominated by a few gigantic companies, choking off local initiatives. What is necessary, then, is to diversify the sector, increase the number of providers and increase competition – not just to make service more affordable, but also to combat the increasingly relevant issue of mass surveillance. In March this year, Berners-Lee delivered a heartfelt proposal for the forging of a Magna Carta for the web – national bills of rights informed by a global consensus on the norms and freedoms that should be respected online. Brazil became the first to pass such a bill of rights on 26 March this year. The Marco Civil da Internet will safeguard users’ fundamental rights of free expression and privacy online. The Web We Want Campaign is an initiative aiming to put Berners-Lee’s vision into practice. It exists primarily to amplify, connect and support the different local efforts that have sprung up worldwide to advance an open, free and private internet. The Web Foundation is one of the founders of the campaign and one of its two co-ordinating organisations. “We hope that by working together we can all achieve a much greater impact. Taking off from Tim’s call for a Magna Carta and the huge amount of interest and support that that’s received, we will be organising a year of action throughout 2014 and into 2015 to try to get ordinary web users around the world to engage with these issues,” says Jellema. And it is teamwork and group action that are vital to the preservation of internet integrity – the biggest and most fundamental threat to the free and open use of the web is user apathy. Most people have grown complacent about the state of the web, an open platform that allows people the freedom to express their creativity and ideas while enabling them to choose who is able to see what they post and how much personal data they give up. “If we continue to take that for granted I think there’s a very big danger right now that we will see it start to disappear, either through increasing commercial control over what we do and the data that we generate online, or through increasing governmental control,” Jellema warns. The debates surrounding internet surveillance, censorship and security are not novel – they are taking place all over the world. One difficulty, however, is that they’re taking place in the tech world and online, among geeks and security experts. But this issue doesn’t just concern specialists; everyone in the world has a stake and everyone must have a say. 16 l www.global -br ief ing.org second quar ter 2014 global 


Global_18
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