OECD urges governments to protect open Internet

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has called on its 34 member countries to “promote and protect the global free flow of information.”

But a Canadian telecom analyst dismissed the call to action as “motherhood statements.”

There has been increasing concern that the openness of the Internet is eroding, the OECD said Wednesday, with “negative consequences on its dynamism and related economic activity.”
While many governments help businesses and ordinary citizens access the Internet, the group, said, there have been instances where relatively heavy-handed government initiatives could  lead to potential harm.
“For this reason it is important to have shared common principles to help policymakers set the parameters for any action taken,” the organization said in a news release, “as well as work towards building trust in the Internet economy both at national levels as well as in cross-border economic activity.”
The agency issued 14 policy recommendations, urging governments – including Canada and the United States — to promote and enable the cross-border delivery of services, promote investment and competition in high speed networks and services and ensure transparency, fair process, and accountability.
Telecom analyst Mark Goldberg shrugged off the effort. “The 14 bullets don’t strike me as providing much more than motherhood statements,” he said in an interview. He speculated that the desire to compromise had made the recommendations so vague as to be meaningless and open to creative interpretation.

“There’s enough buzz words in there,” said Goldberg, “that I think all the competing interests may find that they’re able to find inspiration in this document for support of their own positions as opposed to these really providing a lot of guidance.”

Based in Thornhill, Ont., Goldberg criticized a recommendation that affects the liability of Internet Service Providers for content on their networks as particularly misleading.

“When they have a headline that says `limit Internet intermediary liability’ on the surface you say `oh, my word! The OECD is weighing into this and choosing a side.’ But when you get into the text you can see that it talks the various arguments.”

The debate about how much legal responsibility ISPs bear for the data they carry isn’t any closer to being settled, he adds.

The 34-member global body was attempting to form a shared “Internet policy” that would protect online freedom, at least amongst themselves. Most elements of the policy were easy enough to agree on: for example, that innovation and creativity are good for business.

But they also tackled the touchy subject of government intrusion into the Internet.  A pressing concern has been the extent to which government should intervene—and potentially restrict—access and use of the Internet.

OECD broached the issue somewhat delicately in its press release that accompanied the report, saying that “there have been instances where relatively heavy-handed government initiatives have been viewed as leading to potential harm.”

The definition of what constitutes improper behavior by law enforcement is a difficult topic for many countries, Goldberg said.

“Who can authorize certain things? Well, we say `the courts.’ Other countries may say, `well, the national security apparatus, which is the kind of code language people use for internal spy services. But if we authorize police to do, in effect, a digital wiretap … what’s the difference between our government authorities using our mechanisms of government and another country’s?”

Goldberg added that he would have liked to have sat in on the actual meeting, especially to hear what positions Canada articulated.

OECD members are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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