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The eG8 Summit - The Internet: Accelerating Growth

Published on May 27, 2011
Tags: Web Site Law, Internet Communication

You are no doubt familiar with the G8, the group of rich nations that meet every once in a while to discuss potent world issues and try to come up with solutions to global problems. They’re meeting again this week and it’s fair to say they’ve got a lot to talk about: from the global economy to the current wave of revolutions taking place and the aid promises they made a few years ago, there’s plenty on the agenda. Perhaps that’s why a notable related event hasn’t had quite as much media coverage as it might otherwise have done.

That event is the eG8 forum, a kind of bolt-on to the main G8 summit that was designed to look at the issues posed by the internet and the role it plays in an increasingly interconnected world. It was opened on Tuesday 24th May in Paris by President Sarkozy and was set up as a two-day event, with some of the biggest players invited. From the big names such as Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) and Eric Schmidt (Google’s executive chairman) to other players in the information and communication industries, the people attending the forum are some of the most influential in the world when it comes to the internet.

The eG8 looked at the issue of ‘The Internet: Accelerating Growth’ and it’s fair to say it has opened up something of a debate. President Sarkozy used the opportunity to argue for increased internet regulations, suggesting that as the World Wide Web is a global phenomenon, it needs global rules. He made the argument that while the internet offers opportunities for ideas to be heard like never before, the internet should never be a replacement for democracy.

In his opening speech to the eG8, he said: "Total transparency has to be balanced by individual liberty. Do not forget that every anonymous internet user comes from a society and has a life."

The speech was timely: if you live in the UK, there is no way you can failed to have noticed the current furore surrounding superinjunctions and, in particular, the fact that most current injunctions apply mainly to the big broadcasters and newspapers with online forums such as Twitter either not being included or being badly policed when it comes to enforcing those privacy injunctions. This has allowed particular cases to be ‘broken’ through Twitter (we’re not naming any names to be on the safe side) and now high court judges are asking the social networking site for the details of users who have allegedly broken injunctions.

The whole issue feeds into the debate and privacy and the issue over what exactly counts as ‘the public interest’. There are arguments for and against introducing more regulations to the internet, but ‘the public interest’ and privacy are not the only issues raised by the internet and the discussions that were held at the eG8. They also looked at intellectual property, copyright and the protection of children online. In the ‘real’ world, these are all things that are governed by laws, made by governments and enforced by various agencies. On the internet, it’s much less clear cut. Arguments are made for ‘free speech’ over the rights of artists and others to be recognised for their intellectual content. Counterarguments are made that the digital age changes things, that we’re not operating on the same stage as 50, 20, 10 years ago.

It’s not easy to unpick. We’ve written elsewhere about the growing challenges posed by the internet and the minefield of deciding whether or not more regulations are necessary. One thing that does seem increasingly clear, however, is that any solution is going to need to be global or else it just won’t be practical. The internet exists largely outside borders and so to try and contain it within them doesn’t make a huge amount of practical sense.

The eG8 didn’t solve anything. It was more of a talking shop than anything else. It did, however stoke up the never-ending debate about what to do with the internet and all the issues it raises. Generally speaking, Europeans are said to be more in favour of regulating the internet than the Americans, perhaps reflecting the cultural and political traditions of their respective continents. Unless a proposal is generated that everyone can agree on, though, it seems unlikely that the division is going to be resolved any time soon.

By Chelsey Evans

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