Tale of 2 cyber-confabs: Govts, nerds on one side. Shock hotel room searches on the other

The offline and online worlds are so similar now

Why this matters to you and me: Remember all this next time you see a stupid law affecting the internet

Increasingly, discussions around the internet governance world are becoming segregated, and non-government representatives either coopted or excluded.

Where ministers are banging together policies on how the internet should be used and run, the techies wiring everything up, and the citizens relying on it all, aren't making a dent.

While governments have been increasingly coalescing around the idea of "multistakeholderism" – where every part of society gets a voice – they have also been redefining the term in a way that fits with their agendas.

And the technical community and civil society, having won seats at the table, are increasingly complicit in leaving out details or topics deemed "sensitive" while kidding themselves that this represents pragmatic diplomacy.

Just as business and governments has been criticized for many years for acting closely together and feeding one another's interests to the exclusion of the public interest, so the internet's technical community is increasingly doing the same.

Missing topics

While the Internet Society made brief mention of mass surveillance in the speech given by its CEO at the 2013 conference – the Snowden revelations having been made public just four months earlier – it was exorcised this year. (The lack of a 2014 conference may have proved to be a useful air-gap on the topic.)

Demands for change have turned into mealy mouthed acceptance: "Genuinely free communication can only be guaranteed when privacy and anonymity are assured in principle, and where content controls are an exception rather than a rule," reads the technical community's statement.

Privacy and anonymity need only be delivered "in principle"; content controls should be an "exception." Such language could have been written by civil servants, which is no surprise since increasing numbers of the technical community's advisers on these matters are in fact former government employees.

ICANN, as a pseudo-government itself, is most in line with the increasingly government-led agenda. Last year, at the NetMundial conference in Sao Paulo, run jointly by the Brazilian government and ICANN, all mention of mass surveillance was pulled out, as was mention of separating the policy and technical functions of the critical IANA functions – something that ICANN, and only ICANN, was opposed to.

When ICANN tried to push this arrangement further, by joining up with the World Economic Forum – the epitome of elite business interests – in the NetMundial Initiative, it received heavy pushback. But it continues to push forward thanks almost entirely to the support of governments, and claiming legitimacy by having persuaded a small number of individuals from the technical community and civil society to take part in its "coordination council", despite rejection from all representative organizations.

Cybersecurity has increasingly come to mean "security for governments" at conferences that are run and paid for by governments and whose agendas increasing stay within comfortable boundaries.

Online security has become reflected in real-world security: government representatives introduce scanning and metal detectors and sniffer dogs and conference passes tied to your exact identity because it makes them feel safer. And it ignores the fact that it makes others, who are not in control and do not sit in the meetings where the measures are decided, and who do not have the ability to bypass them when needed, feel less safe.

So it is online: the topics of most concern to governments are discussed in great depth; those they find uncomfortable or difficult are not.

The technical community seems increasingly willing to accept this Faustian bargain; business always was. But civil society still has too much to lose from turning a blind eye to its convictions. And that's why it will be continue to be visited without notice by policemen and sniffer dogs while asleep, naked, and vulnerable. ®

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