“Defending an open and inclusive internet is part of .SE’s DNA”

The Stockholm internet Forum is now under way. For the second consecutive year, .SE – in partnership with the Swedish Foreign Ministry and Sida – is hosting people from all over the world at a conference about freedom on the internet and how this is advantageous to global development.

(This is a translated blog post, written by Staffan Jonson, Policy Advisor at .SE)

So why is .SE engaging as organizer in this type of conference? Last year, I explained the reasoning for this in a length article, however, in Swedish only. Then the message in brief was:.SE is involved in SIF12 because we believe in the reasoning behind an open, international and free internet – which is reasonably regulated – and on which user freedom is in focus.

We also concluded that our engagement is essential since we believe the net is -or at least should be- universal, and as far as possible should be governed by a multitude of actors. It is important to support an international conference about the development of the internet, since there is where it happens. We have already passed zenith for internet growth in Sweden, at least when looking at internet access. The growth of the internet south of the equator however, could be compared to a mild explosion. Today. And since we believe in a universal context for internet to safeguard universal values, What happens there, affect us as well.

A global network on which everyone can access one another’s content

First of all, according to our values, a conferene on freedom online is more or less inseparable with values on multistakeholderism and open access to internets content.
Secondly, safeguarding and maintaining the internet as one system and as one global network where everyone can access one another’s content is very important. This form of universal openness for the content of the internet was one of the most crucial success factors for its emergence in the first place, and still is. We believe in this formula, also for the future.

Unfortunately, the openness of the internet is occasionally challenged by both commercial players who want to wall users into disadvantageous business models, and by governments that want to regulate the content of the internet in a manner that runs counter to reasonable fundamental values. Being a techie organization does discourage us from engaging in central values for the net.

The opposite to openness is of course the balkanization of the internet, meaning that major corporations’ and governments’ intrusiveness or overzealous regulations risk leading to the internet being bound by one single regulatory framework per country – a development that rapidly will accumulate into obstacles for the internet’s ability to progress.

Business models and government regulations are two potential threats against the universality of the internet, which is why all aspects of the internet’s openness need to be balanced.

The internet emerged as – and remains – a truly global phenomena, and we can still refer to it as one internet. Defending an open and inclusive internet is simply in .SE’s DNA and part of our values and mission.
We believe that the internet’s horizontal and cross-border structure must be safeguarded. This, in turn, requires governance from horizontal institutions and the horizontal establishment of norms. It is first then that we can maximize the growth of the information society, both in terms of social and economic opportunities. Ultimately, we believe that the internet will be of greater use to us in this way.

The twin terms: freedom and security – a major challenge

So far, we have discussed relatively esoteric values that are difficult to pinpoint. Among the themes addressed at this year’s conference is a highly complex subject – namely the next step in the journey of specifying the twin terms: online freedom and security. The subject is complex because those of us who are participating are attending the conference with so many different expectations about what it can, and should mean.

Online security encompasses everything including the government’s security against terrorists, individuals’ right to not fall victim to anonymous hate crimes from others, protection against property theft for corporations and individuals, the role of the police online, the right to express our opinions – even those that are controversial, society’s protection of infrastructure, such as electricity and so forth, the individual’s protection of their privacy from companies or their own government, fraud protection, a secure and stable internet in terms of infrastructure and corporate security from espionage and so forth.

We can probably begin by safely assuming that everyone wants security. Always. Including online. Security is simply the umbrella term for protection against all things unwanted. But whose security are we talking about?

Is it the bank’s security – meaning fraud or theft protection? Is it the country of Sweden’s security – meaning protection against terrorism? Is it security in the work environment at Larry’s plumbing, water and sewage? Or is it the security of other citizens, such as protection against hate crimes and fraud? Or even the individual’s protection of their right to express themselves?

And similar to the rhetoric above: Is the bank’s security synonymous with my security as a customer? Is the government’s security synonymous with my security as a citizen? Can the government’s security be worth more than my security as an individual citizen – meaning is an infringement of my personal freedom warranted for the well-being of the government? In which case, where is the line drawn?

The table requires a third leg

For the twin terms Security and Freedom to have meaning, a third leg is needed under the table – and this is where the balance of considerations comes into play; often a political consideration between values. The balance between all of the aforementioned aspects of security is, of course, also the essence of the political discussion.

But this does not answer the key question: where is the line drawn? What is a reasonable balance between freedom and security? As long as we are only discussing security without also discussing the price of that security, we are absolutely in the hands of rethorics.

So one reason for .SE’s involvement could be expressed as the aim to get closer to an operationalisation of what online security should mean. Because if we want the internet to be universal, and to be developed using universal values, then online security and freedom must be defined by those universal values.

So the novelty for us to engage is rather that we are trying to contribute to this type of international discussion in a society that is rapidly changing; in this case as a result of the development of main business – i.e. the internet