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The distant future: The year 2000!
The London Conference on Cyberspace has been happening in the QE2 Centre in Westminster, London, for the last couple of days. The idea being that it brings together government officials, industry experts and relevant bloggers and journalists to discuss “the issues”. Or, as William Hague, the British Foreign Serectary, put it “the vision, the hope, the fears”. I don’t doubt this is a good and noble cause with some splendid ideas and some influential participants: Jimmy Wales, Neelie Kroes and the President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
But, and its a big but, from reading the official info, blogs by people there and companies involved I kind of get the impression its a little bit of a conference for those that either don’t understand, or worse, fear the internet, and those who wish to make money from this incomprehension.
Firstly its the name, more specifically the ‘Cyberspace’ bit. I mean, really? It’s 2011 and you are referring to the internet, the online world, the technology industry as ‘cyberspace’?! You guys are gonna have your minds blown when you see the iPhone in 7 years! Admittedly I do have a… penchant… for naming conventions as we have seen here and here. But I still feel from the outset that this name suggests a group of 50+ year olds getting together in suits to discuss how this black magic is a threat.
Even if we ignore the name and look at the content it still feels heavy on the “fears” with not too much of the “hope” and “vision”. And this is purely systematic of a lot of those who are attending: internet security experts. They make their living by ensuring that governments, companies and individuals are somewhat defended against online crime. Now I’m not suggesting that the internet is a risk free flowery meadow filled with good pixies and chocolate unicorns, but these people’s principle concern is to make sure that threat, crime and detriment are at the forefront of the minds of those who make large decisions about how the internet is run and governed nationally and internationally.
This view of the conference is apparently a common one and something that the Foreign Office is keen to calm, saying “The Foreign Office has been keen to play down expectations of real outcomes from the conference, stressing that this is just a starting-point”. If thats the case then is it really that useful? It kind of makes it one of those meetings that we have all been to where nobody is sure why they are there and then it just turns out that this is a meeting to let everyone know what will be discussed in future meetings. Great.
To be fair, there have been one or two positive highlights form it: namely a discussion on Internet Freedom which featured Google’s Head of Freedom of Expression (!), John Kampfner from Index On Censorship and a Yemeni online activist. Mr Kamfner made excellent points about the problems faced by policy makers, namely how British PM, David Cameron, was keen to shut down Blackberry during the riots over the summer until William Hague pointed out how that might look after our complaints about dictatorships during the Arab Spring.
My overall impression of the conference was that there was a lot of talk about how scary and threatening the internet is and a general consensus that there needs to be a collective decision on how o go about fighting that threat. Its just that nobody has the faintest idea how you go about fighting internet threats as a group. But then the guy who set it up, John Duncan, thinks I’m wrong.
Have a great week!