OpenNet Initiative (ONI) Global Summit in Ottawa

Gurumurthy Kasinathan participated in the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) 2010 Global Summit on “Should Cyberspace be Secured as an Open Commons?”, on June 30 at Ottawa. This event featured three high-level panels of experts and practitioners on prominent topics related to cyberspace governance, security, and advocacy. Participants included International Development Research Centre, BBC, Google, Opennet.Asia, Opennet.Eurasia, United States Department of State, National Endowment of Democracy, United States Broadcasting Board of Governors, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada, Public Safety Canada, Bell Canada, Sesawe and Psiphon Inc. Guru was a panelist in the session: “What is to be done? A conversation with the OpenNet Initiative's global partners” The ONI is a network of regional-based research groups, advocates, and activists. This panel will feature a larger roundtable on the future of research and advocacy in cyberspace, with a particular focus on the future of the ONI and its promotion of an open commons. Issues to be discussed include the balance between research and advocacy; methods and ethics; funding and sustainability; and future possible directions for the ONI's mission. OpenNet Initiative global partners include: Tattu Mambetalieva (Eurasia i-policy Network), Jac SM Kee (Malaysia), Shahzad Ahmad (Pakistan), Guru Kasinathan (India), Ali Bangi (Psiphon-Iran), and Laurent Elder (IDRC).

The gist of my submission in the panel is summarised below:

It is good that the summit considers cyberspace as a 'Commons'. The commons is terminology referring to resources that are collectively owned or shared between or among populations. These resources are said to be "held in common" and can include everything from natural resources and land to software. commons cannot be exclusionary. The internet is a powerful digital commons. Like all digital resources it is non rivalrous. There are at least three categories of threat to the 'cyber commons' and to secure the commons all will need to be addressed:

1. Autocratic governments censoring and surveillance This has been the original concern of ONI and needs to continue to be a focus area.

2. Net Neutrality attack on the global commons by large and powerful transnational companies based in the western world Infrastructure level – eg. AT&T and Comcast tampering with nature and flow of information on the net. 

Application level – eg. Apple and Microsoft impeding information flow through filters of proprietary technologies. Skype not allowed on most cell phones. The 'mobile internet' is a highly proprietised space.

Content level – eg. Google books proprietising orphan books or google search engine logic being private

3. ACTA attack on the global commons by group of powerful western governments Western democracies through ACTA – deriving rules for a global resource in a small group that consistently undermining existing global fora such as the IGF, these rules will then become defacto global rules, “ The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a dangerous proposal to radically expand intellectual property rights at the global level. The draft agreement has been negotiated in secret, without inclusion of developing nation perspectives, and without any participation from civil society or regard for the global public interest. ACTA specifically targets the Internet and regulates the flow of information in a digital environment. ACTA would create significant negative consequences for fundamental freedoms, access to medicines, innovation, the balance of public/private interests, access to knowledge and culture, to name a few of its problems. ACTA represents a 'wish list' from Hollywood and Big Pharma which will be imposed unilaterally on developing countries through trade pressure from the US, Europe and other wealthy states. We find that the terms of the agreement threaten numerous public interests, including nearly every concern specifically disclaimed by the negotiators in their announcement. The proposed agreement is a deeply flawed product of a deeply flawed process”.

Rebecca MacKinnon, Visiting Fellow, Center for Information Technology Policy, Princeton University

The Free Knowledge Institute (FKI) states that "the current draft of ACTA would profoundly restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of European citizens, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy. These countries need to engage with the global policy process dialog forum, the IGF where all countries / stakeholders participate to evolve global public policies that can guide countries, communities and companies in their participation in cyber commons. ONI hence has to consider all three 'pieces of the puzzle' towards securing the cyber commons, if it wants to be a credible process for securing the cyber commons.