ONI: Roundup

Some highlights from the final plenary session (there’s some great live-updating going on on the screen – by Jonathan Zittrain – so here’s hoping that that ends up being blogged, as there’s no incentive to keep up with a much better job!). Other good blogging: Tobias.

One thing that’s emerged is that the conference and much of the prior research has been focused on State-mandated technical filtering – that is to say, excluding discussion on ‘private filtering’. (Personally I have a huge interest in this area, especially in the context of restrictive terms of use. I had some useful side conversations on the topic of social networking and censorship). It was noted that we today are only touching on part of the issues. (Indeed it was suggested that looking at corporate censorship would increase the credibility of ONI, meaning that it wouldn’t be seen as a tool of American – and Canadian – hegemony, focused on the evils of non-US governments…).

Another issue is the question (mentioned in the notes below) of how much data should be made available – the problem that a study of filtering produces information that is valuable for the would-be filterer. There’s no easy answer. (Ethan Zuckerman mentioned that even the existence of public discussion on filtering can encourage non-filtering states to start doing it).

There’s been a few useful reminders from the floor on the importance of history – i.e. restriction of access to information is nothing new (and indeed, there’s no guarantee that ‘the Internet’ is the modern version of the photocopier for Soviet dissidents or the fax machine for Tianamen Square, as one contributor remarked). That’s an important cyberlaw issue – there was a world before TCP/IP and HTML (and GooTube), believe it or not…

Naturally enough, some people have mentioned the need to bring together different approaches – including measurement, circumvention tools, activism and law. (However this is not all perfect – for example, circumvention is at its nature anti-State in that it challenges control and surveillance etc).

A controversial one is whether there should be ‘best practice for filtering’, which has been criticised – we’re just on the surface of it but it highlights a point that I’ve wondered about over coffee: we really need someone to stand up and defend filtering (whether from a State-power perspective or in theory). Not because I agree with it, but we need it in the debate. Unfortunately those who defend things like Chinese government filtering tend not to register for this sort of event. (Just heard a couple of brief mentions of child pornography and filtering, which is a start – and a proposal (devil’s advocate, I think) of a market for credits in filtering…)

Great mirth came from the unintended consequence of the press work, meaning that there was gleeful coverage in the Zimbabwean press (Zimbabwe not filtering therefore “clean bill of health” – the same article accidentally took an alphabetical list (that didn’t include Zimbabwe) as a ranking).


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