Cyber ethics: Restoring trust in the Internet crucial

Rebuilding public trust in the Internet following recent revelations by Edward Snowden is crucial, forcing the international community to agree on a collective code of ethics and governance principles for an open, yet secure, cyberspace.

Speakers at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nusa Dua have revealed unlawful surveillance issues from various perspectives.

Thomas Gass, the United Nations assistant secretary-general and co-chair of the conference, spoke with The Jakarta Post saying that everyone should work together to ensure that the basic rights of privacy and freedom of expression were protected in cyberspace so as not to negatively affect fundamental freedoms.

"The Internet has been misused for a variety of purposes and there is a danger that some world governments have been so defensive in covering Internet abuses, including the recent surveillance cases," Gass said.

He said the governments had to be open-minded. The Internet had provided new ideas, new ways of doing things.

"It is not an era when using the Internet is dangerous and threatening; that would be a pity for the international Internet community," he said.

Paulo Bernardo Silva, Brazil's minister of communication, said that his government did not claim to have the answers to protecting citizens and businesses from unlawful surveillance, and that such regulations would require further discussions with civil society and the private sector.

Silva stressed that while some targeted surveillance could be justified as a measure to counter terrorism, the government of Brazil could not agree with spying on legitimate businesses to gain commercial advantage. He said that measures were already being taken to protect vital data and e-mail communications.

The IGF is being attended by 1,500 delegates from the private sector, civil society, and representatives of governments, academia and the media. Around 150 workshops are being held during the four-day event, which will end on Oct. 25.

Yesterday's sessions include one focusing on finding non-binding, high-level principles that would constitute a common ground for the future of cyberspace.

Session co-moderator Wolfgang Kleinwächter of the University of Aarhus suggested that some 80 per cent of principles may already be universally shared, and that consensus may emerge in much the same way as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights did - not as a lengthy treaty negotiation, but as a non-binding document with universal legitimacy.

Civil society representative Anriette Esterhuysen of the Association For Progressive Communications agreed tentatively with the process of elaborating a set of common principles but warned against "lowest-common denominator" approaches and the risk of "blatant disregard by states and by governments of those principles with no accountability".

Making sure that the voices of disadvantaged and marginalised groups are heard in the discussion on Internet governance featured prominently in a number of workshops and roundtables taking place throughout the day. These included the "Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Roundtable - The Broadband (Access) Dilemma", which looked at specific issues faced by SIDS in the context of providing broadband Internet access to their citizens.

At the civil society level, challenges and best practices on the extent to which gender has been integrated into Internet governance issues were looked at as part of the "Gender and Internet governance roundtable". The ensuing discussion also brought out the similarities in challenges faced by the LGBTI community and by people with disability and the need to ensure that the Internet governance discussion provided substantive participation for all, while remaining open to bringing in new voices