Internet governance and ungovernance

Istanbul —  About 3,000 representatives of governments, intergovernmental organizations, business, technical, community, and civil society from 132 countries convened here in this amazing capital city of Turkey for the ninth session of the Internet Governance Forum.

Internet governance refers to “the development and application by governments, the private sector, and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.”

The IGF and the counterpoint Internet Ungovernance Forum, also held here in Istanbul, are learning experiences and eye-openers. They provide global, regional, and other national views on how to best roll out, maximize, and protect the Internet.

The IGF and IUF could have been great opportunities for the Philippines to learn from both the multi-stakeholder process and from Turkish citizens’ anti-censorship campaigns.

“Could have” because the BS Aquino administration failed to send an official delegation, unlike many countries. The two top officials of the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) signed up to participate but they apparently were unable to attend.

“Could have” because the highly profitable telcos didn’t send delegations either, so much unlike their eager attendance in international business conferences where they could join, apply for, and win industry awards.

But who are we fooling? The BS Aquino administration cannot understand the multi-stakeholder approach. Its hallmarks of overweening arrogance, self-righteousness, and allergy to dissent and criticisms are incompatible with the multi-stakeholder approach. We have seen it in the passage of the Cybercrime Law and Data Privacy Law, the refusal to pass the Freedom of Information Law and the pork barrel issues. President BS Aquino and his minions don’t care about others because they always believe and always maintain that only they know what’s best for everyone else.

The apparent disinterest of the BS Aquino administration in Internet governance issues only serves the interest of telcos to freely enjoy billions of superprofits by fleecing their customers. Telcos continue to roll out services and products without any meaningful state protection for end-users, big and small. We continue to be deprived of a national Internet program and a national broadband network, which have become top priorities for most developing and developed countries.

It is thus no surprise that the PYou canhilippines has the slowest Internet speeds in the region, a stumbling block to making the Internet to become a truly potent tool or means for personal and national development and prosperity.

The counterpoint IUF, meanwhile, warned about the perils lurking behind the shadows: Internet surveillance and the absence of data protection, censorship and what the Turkish citizens described as “state-funded and privatized surveillance and censorship.”

While many of us are grateful to the Ankara government for hosting the IGF, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that, just last March, Turkey blocked Twitter and YouTube for political reasons. Turkish citizens are also raising the alarm on the use of state-sponsored, foreign-made, and  sophisticated tools to track their Internet activities, down to the last packet of information. It is truly unfortunate that these Turkish issues were unmentioned in the IGF.

Neither were Snowden, Manning, and Wikileaks ever mentioned in the main IGF plenary speeches – or more importantly, their revelations about massive surveillance practices done by the United States against its own citizens and in other states.

Censorship and surveillance are familiar themes for us Filipinos, who once fought and now brace for the adverse effects of President BS Aquino’s draconian Cybercrime Law and the Data Privacy Law.

That the BS Aquino administration’s two major Internet-related  “achievements” are about controlling and regulating the Internet speak volumes on its appreciation of the internet. It also betrays the dim prospects that this administration could lead or play a positive role in promoting Internet freedom and in ushering in a policy of encouraging Internet use to improve the lives of Filipinos.

There is a way forward. Steps could be made by the vibrant social media, tech and startup communities, civil society and mass movements, small and medium-scale entrepreneurs, academics, media, and progressive government officials. Coalitions could be built and mashups could be done around issues that promote the principles of Internet freedom: free expression, access, openness, innovation, and privacy.

Campaigns could be launched to help enact laws and rules on monopolies, consumer protection, setting and raising standards for Internet and mobile services, and towards building a national broadband network and related infrastructures. Campaigns could also be won to demand better Internet services, wider 3G and 4G coverage, reduced prices, automatic rebates, and privacy protection against spam.

We could perhaps draw inspiration from how we mashed up, collaborated, and cooperated during disasters and calamities when Filipinos needed help the most. The many communities, developers, entrepreneurs, and non-government and people’s organizations always come together for social good.

Its time to do it for Philippine Internet governance and ungovernance.

[Tonyo Cruz is one of four journalists supported by SEAPA to cover the Internet Governance Forum 2014 in Istanbul Turkey.  You can follow him in Twitter @tonyocruz and read his blog. This post first appeared in Tonyo’s column in the Manila Bulletin.]