Tuesday, June 19, 2012 | 3:41 PM
(Throughout this week, we’ll be presenting posts on our Big Tent and its travels around the world. The first dispatch comes from Ireland.)
It was a historic venue for a 21st century debate. We brought our Big Tent to the famed “Round Room” of Ireland’s Mansion House to coincide with the Organization of Security and Cooperation’s meeting on Internet Freedom. Here the First Dáil assembled on 21 January 1919 to proclaim the Irish Declaration of Independence. This week, here we assembled the Irish high tech community with diplomats and officials from 56 member countries to launch the update of our Transparency Report and to debate the danger of government control over the Net.
The danger is certainly rising. More than 40 countries now censor or filter the web, up from only four a decade ago, according to the Open Net Initiative. Our Transparency Report details the requests we receive from governments around the world to censor content or collect information on Internet users. This report has proven a powerful tool for freedom of expression. This biannual update shows how some Western governments, not just the usual suspects are censoring legitimate Internet search results.
As the report’s creator Dorothy Chou explained, Google’s report represents only a narrow snapshot. It is limited to a single company. Imagine, she asked the audience, if an entire country came clean. This would give a global look at freedom in their country. The more transparent a government is, the less likely it will be to censor or request information on users. At least, the authorities will think twice before cracking down on the Net.
From this starting point, the Big Tent explored the danger of international organizations, and specifically the International Telecommunications Union, to undermine the bottom-up, sometimes messy system of governing the Internet. Our own chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf outlined the issue in a video address that followed up from his recent New York Times op ed.
Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and State Department advisor Alec Ross continued to debate the issue. The Estonian president warned of “computer savvy despots” who would destroy Internet freedom, harkening back to another United Nations organization, UNESCO, and its attempt to strangle media freedom with a “new world information and communications order” in the 1980s.“ In Ross’s view, the free Internet faces an imminent attack from “monsters under the bed.”
The evening ended with an emotional and lyrical exploration of free expression from War Horse author Michael Morpurgo. He weaved together a tale about illiteracy, libraries and unicorns, ending with the vow to pursue his right to to say what he wants, and even “believe in unicorns.” The Irish band Hudson Taylor, who came to prominence on YouTube, closed the evening.
Big Tent now moves to Israel and to Cannes, to coincide with the world’s largest advertising meeting. Keep a watch out for upcoming reports of these events bringing together diverse viewpoints to debate the impact of the Internet on our world.