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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

G-8 Leaders Discuss Stronger Internet Regulations

Ankit Tyagi |
May 27, 2011 | 3:05 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


During a special meeting of G8 leaders and other delegates in Deauville this past week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy pushed other G8 leaders towards issuing a call for stronger Internet regulations, a goal strongly opposed by some Internet companies and free-speech groups. 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a major backer of tighter Internet regulations. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a major backer of tighter Internet regulations. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Attending the meeting were executives from some of the largest Internet companies, including Eric Schmidt from Google, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, and Amazon and eBay execs. 

G8 leaders are hoping to focus on protecting children from online predators, strengthening privacy rights, and prevent copyright piracy all while providing openness and technological development of the Internet. However, this has not stopped Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, to believe otherwise. "Before we decide there is a regulatory solution, let's ask if there's a technological solution," he said. 

The biggest concern raised during the meeting was whether the openness of the Internet would remain if there were to be government regulation. Blogger Jeff Jarvis has explicitly stated that "the Internet was born open, free, and distributed ... It must stay that way," in a message to Sarkozy. 

Some key points of discussion were related to intellectual property protection, privacy protection, and the ultimate role of government in the regulation of the Internet. When it comes to privacy protection, many are hoping for technical solutions, such as Mozilla's Do-Not-Track extension for Firefox, although frustration is still present regarding previous history of privacy protection.

In the midst of the disagreements, some common themes were agreed on, most notably including noting that the Internet will play a key factor towards the growth of economies and that access to high-speed internet should be a short-term goal for governments. 

Based on the recent uprisings in Egypt and Libya, and how the Internet played a role in those situations, Sarkozy does believe the Internet can have positive effects. France has already applied a "civilized Internet," where the government can filter out websites with illegal content and suspend Internet connections to noted digital pirates. 

Steven Bellovin, professor at Columbia University, believes that although regulation could provide benefits if managed correctly, history has proven that government hasn't managed to secure their own systems, which leave questions as to how can the government effectively regulate to secure the Internet.

He also mentioned that third-party software could provide the answer, especially since many tech ideas have come from "unexpected places and small players." Citing examples such as Facebook, Twitter, the first web browser, and the World Wide Web itself, Bellovin believes that "none of these would've passed muster with any regulatory regime, because they were all very different from anything that had come before."


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