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Swedish Internet Forum: Conclusions
Below is a video and transcript of the conclusions closing session of the Swedish Internet Forum on 19 April 2012. The presenter, Emily Taylor, also provided a written version of her summary for .Nxt.
In 2005, which in internet terms is really ancient history, I came across an article which was written in the New York Times about a funny little argument that was preoccupying those of us in our small circle of internet geeks and we were terribly worried about. Now the article is memorable for a couple of reasons. First of all, and this is unusual, believe me, in the internet space, it was short, cogent, humorous. And it sort of rose above the confusing detail and explained why this stuff was important. And the second surprise is that it was written by a politician. That politician was Carl Bildt.
So, in reflecting on this conference, I think we should first reflect on the fact that it is taking place, an initiative of the Swedish government in partnership with other stakeholders, the Swedish Registry one of them, the organizations to be multi-stakeholder, and this has brought us all together a new mix of people. And I think that this is very refreshing. One of the questions we just had is we're all talking about these things in silos. And from those of us from the internet community, it's such a relief to spend two days not talking about ICANN.
So, I think this is important because it enables networks to be built, ideas to cross-fertilize. We realize that we're worrying about the same sort of issues, and also a real step forward in the last six or seven years, a real difference. Now when you think about that article by Carl Bildt in 2005 was a beacon because it was so unusual to have a high level politician having any interest in the internet. This is something Richard Allan just mentioned. Here yesterday, we had three government ministers. I mean, there might have been more coming from right across the board speaking intelligently and with real up-to-date information and passion about what the internet had to do with their particular brief.
So, what have we learned over the last few days, and what happens next? I think we'd like to know. Well, the internet is a disruptive technology. It's making everybody feeling uncomfortable. This isn't a bug. It's a feature. And this is a quote from the author, John Norton. "It brings with it uncomfortable dilemmas for all of us." And we saw this vividly, for example, in the session on freedom and the responsibility of business in the internet space. So, I think the most re-tweeted phrase over the last... This is completely unscientific. This is just what I've noticed. The most re-tweeted phrase that I've noticed is countries advocating internet freedom, those who are afraid of information, of this... Oh, no. I can't even find it. What is it? There we go. There we go. The countries or citizens, or any people that are afraid of this openness, they need to look to themselves. That's the basic message, isn't it? They're worried about the future of their own country or their own company, or themselves.
So, my reflection is, having listened to the debate over the last two days, is that there are challenges and threats. There are difficult issues for all of us. But if somebody had the answer, you could just flick the switch and it would all happen, and we could all go away. These are challenging issues that in many cases, in different sectors, as we heard just now, these are being preoccupying people for a number of years. As Lee Hibbard just said, I think we do need to be a bit more precise about what we mean by internet freedom or internet openness.
We're not actually talking about anarchy, are we? We're not talking about people just being able to do with whatever they like on the internet. No. Carl Bildt put it yesterday, the concept of freedom exists within a well-ordered society. And there are rules, there are norms, there are laws. But that's where we tend to all grind to a halt because it gets uncomfortable, because these terms like "well-ordered rules", "harmony" have been appropriated by authoritarian regimes. And perhaps, they have become rather charged terms. We think that they're dangerous. So, how do we re-appropriate those and start to define internet freedoms in a meaningful way?
So, let's look at what other people have done. So, Marcus Kummer of the internet society said in his speech to the human rights council that Article 19 in shining as it does the right to seek, receive, impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers thus read like the definition of the internet even though it was written quarter of a century before TCP/IP, which is the protocol that underlies, that makes this ability for indiscriminate connectivity.
So there are threats, and some of them have been with us for a long time. Human rights abuses, we've heard really terrible stories, persecution of bloggers, arrest of journalists, political dissidents. And there are also insidious threats, our unthinking acceptance of the supremacy of national laws even when they conflict with international law or accepted norms. The risk of fragmentation along national boundaries. Now, these are the things that we need to take account of. I don't know if we can solve them. But also, we should remember, perhaps, that the success of the Internet is not pre-ordained. It's not guaranteed. So, a couple of weeks ago, we had some very unusually hot weather in England, which is very unusual.
So, I decided to put all of my peas and beans seedlings in the ground earlier than I should have done. And then, the cold snap came and pretty much wiped them out. So, maybe, that Carl Bildt is correct when he's saying that all of these Internet companies that we're so worried at the moment, might not even be here in 20 years time. It maybe that this crazy, chaotic environment of disruptive innovation and creativity we're currently in the middle of and quite annoyed by or challenged by, will not in fact be long lived. But if we cherish these aspects of what is being created, then we have a duty not to stand by while they perish in cold, hostile environments.
What next? Well, I hope that this very well common initiative by Sweden will be continued and imitated by other democracies. Who knows? It might even shake the good, old UK out of its current obsession with cyber security, as the only internet issue that captures the political imagination. If so, we might start to see some network benefits even from this meeting today. We're all going to go back into our communities and we formed new networks here. And we see, that we just think about how many of the uncomfortable statements and observations came from the flaw, came from the Twitter feed. It's all of us here. Lastly, thank you for your patience listening to me. I would like to congratulate and thank our Swedish hosts for your hospitality and your willingness. And to step up to the plate and show thought leadership in this incredibly important and complex environment. So, I hope that these thoughts and this initiative will inspire others to follow your lead. Thank you all for your attention.