As the ITU meeting approaches, a lot of posturing and jockeying for position is going on. I've covered Russia's attempt to grab Internet governance.
Suddenly, the ITU claims that the fact that it incorporates UN human rights treaties into its charter is the same thing as actually having its state members really comply with those treaties. Nonsense! Look at the UN Committee Against Torture's conclusions on Russia this week -- awful! (Scross down to the Russian report and the experts' conclusions on the far right column). Beatings, jailings, murders of journalists -- a terrible indicator of lack of press freedom. Obviously, signing a treaty isn't the same thing as doing it.
And the tech press has now misleading reported Russia as "backing down" from its position, although it hasn't really done anything of the sort -- that was just a dodge to confuse people before the meeting, its position is hardly changed as you see from reading the text referenced.
Meanwhile, Google is no better, in its heavily-publicized manifesto -- using its high-view "Take Action" page that helped rally 7 million people to oppose SOPA last summer.
But Google has two things wrong.
First, it sets up the proposition that having closed-door meetings is somehow evil and non-transparent. You know, like Google isn't transparent in its Transparency Report about HOW it comes to make decisions about what content to remove or not remove, thinking we'll be satisfied merely with the aggregate report of WHAT.
But there's nothing wrong with closed-door meetings of states per se. States have to negotiate. They can't do that in the glare of the press. States negotiate all the time behind closed doors, on everything from the disabled rights treaty to the resolution on Gaza that the US said it would veto. That's life in the real world -- governments negotiate behind closed doors. The governments, ideally, are democratically elected and represent their peoples' interests when they do that. They don't represent Google's interests, but then, they're just one company with one copyleftist concept and the California Business Model (hijack other people's intellectual property to use to sell ads and wait for the lawyers to call).
Google isn't even a member of the ITU -- as The Register points out, it prefers to spend its lobbying money on Washington. At least Apple bothered to join. So what is its standing at the ITU? It's like a lobbying NGO -- did it even get an observer pass or what?
Electronic Frontier Foundation and the other lobbyists screaming about the ITU -- which of course shouldn't be let anywhere near the Internet -- seem to think that they clinch their case for evil-doing by saying the meetings are behind closed doors. Oh, like EFF board and staff meetings? They imagine that just because the ITU member states are governments they "have" to be public when they try to reach consensus. But of course they don't have to be public; that's not how diplomacy works.
Sure, you want international meetings to be as transparent as possible -- with open documents and open agreements, openly arrived at. But not everything is done that way or realistically can be done that way -- if you force countries into holding open sessions, as we know from many of the now-open sessions of the UN Security Council, first of all, those NGOs that clamoured for them to be open don't even bother to follow them much of the time, and second, you just drive the secrecy further into more informal settings of basement meetings, receptions, dinners, etc.
More troubling, however, is the second thing that Google gets wrong -- out of Silicon Valley idealism and desire to "make a better world" and "change the world" -- which no one has really asked them to do except for their own cohorts.
Google has about 50,000 staff people now, up from 30,000 when they acquired Motorola. It's a private company and even its rank-and-file employees don't get to participate democratically in its political positions, i.e. about how the Internet should run. Probably they have a lot of ideological support among their own ranks, but they haven't participated in the decision. More to the point, we haven't! Google doesn't represent America or even the political party whose candidate they helped get elected to the White House again -- at least not formally.
Yet Google thinks that anyone who shows up should have standing at an international meeting, and the Internet Governance Forum, where governments and NGOs and corporations alike are at the same table should get to make decisions about the means of communication and livelihood for us all.
I can only say: no fucking way. Again, we did not elect Google. Google does not represent the American people. Unless the Obama Administration has deputized the same executives who serve in the Administration itself in the Google-US revolving door system -- but we haven't heard that.
I'm not forthe ITU taking over the Internet for all the obvious reasons; but I'm also not for the NGOs taking over -- the "progressive engineers," the EFF, and all the other international jet-set that shows up at these meetings, and give us "the tyranny of who shows up". I definitely don't want Google's NGO stalking horses running the Internet either -- New America Foundation (Rebecca McKinnon), Center for Democracy and Technology, etc.
I'm happy to have my government, even the Obama Administration I didn't vote for, represent the American people at the ITU, where the official position, thank God, is to push back and not let Russia get the upper hand. And I'm happy to leave the Internet Governance Forum as a talk shop.
Really, Google needs to be paper-trained for international meetings. They don't understand how the international system works; they don't respect; they want to overthrow it with crude revolutionary programs that their geeks decide in a vacuum undemocratically. The Internet has to remain diverse, with all kinds of actors freely engaging on it, from individuals to nonprofits to businesses to governments.
Sure, we need a free and open Internet that governments alone -- and intergovernmental agencies that contain so many bad actors like Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, etc. -- should not determine. But the answer is not to let unelected and unaccountable NGOs and corporations decide everything undemocratically either. Whatever millions of people Google can whiplash in its networks, it is not a country, it is not elected, and it has no due process for reaching decisions by deliberation. It can't decide our future online.