UN-led Conference Grills Corporations On Support For Restrictive Internet Regimes31/10/2006 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.By William New ATHENS – Participants in this week’s Internet Governance Forum here saw strong support for ensuring public access to knowledge as tough questions were put to technology corporations for their apparent support of restrictive government practices.But representatives of the corporations, including Cisco Systems, Google and Microsoft, held their own in the debate.The 30 Oct. – 2 Nov. forum, led by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union, was created as a place for discussion of “difficult” issues related to the Internet. The first session on 31 October addressed “openness” on the Internet.Art Reilly of Cisco loosely denied charges by an audience member that his company promoted its technology infrastructure products to the Chinese police to block citizens’ access to websites. But he said that if such a deal took place, it would be out of “business considerations.” Reilly repeatedly argued that technologies allowing operators (such as parents) to block access to certain content help open up the free flow of information rather than restrict it.“It’s the same equipment we sell in every country in the world,” Reilly said. “There is no differentiation.”To make his point that his company’s actions are not limiting access to Internet-based information, Reilly said that in 1995 when Cisco entered the Chinese market, the number of Internet users there was about 80,000. In 2005, that number had grown to 130 million.Reilly also said that the “bargaining power” of large US companies in China is undercut by the highly competitive nature of the global market.One panellist said companies’ actions in dealing with the Chinese government, which has been found to limit access to some Internet sites, should be measured by whether they are helping to improve the life of others. Another questioned the legal responsibility of network operators, who are regulated only as telecommunications firms despite a move into other areas such as creation of their own content.Richard Sambrook of BBC Global News said his company’s website is blocked in China. This was refuted by a Chinese government official in the audience who said that the government does not block websites, a comment which elicited discussion in the audience.Panel chair Nik Gowing of BBC World insisted the session was not intended to be a “China-bashing.” Blogger Adam Peake said at the end that he thought more scrutiny could be paid to developed countries, such as the United States and in Europe, which have adopted increasingly restrictive and intrusive techniques.James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology criticised efforts by technology providers to undermine the neutrality of the Internet by supporting a move in the United States to favour certain content providers at the “last mile” to the home.Fred Tipson of Microsoft said that with some variation, virtually every country in the world is moving toward a situation where the police and others must get access to, and retain, data to allow governments to get access to the information.Tipson said that if people want to be serious in talks about human rights, then they need to talk about “which rights they want to protect” rather than take a “broad stroke approach.”Tipson also said his company lobbies governments to promote the interests of Microsoft users in the freedom of expression and access to information. Reflecting a lack of bargaining power, he said over the years the company has succeeded in reducing the software piracy rate in China from 92 percent to 91 percent (though it is better at the government level).But Anriette Esterhuysen of the Association for Progressive Communications said she opposes her government, South Africa, having to prosecute people who pirate Microsoft products.Vint Cerf of Google defended his company’s actions in China as well. An argument also was made that it is better for US companies that enable the flow of information to be in the such markets than not.European Parliament Member Catherine Trautmann said the responsibility of business should be clarified, and that industry cannot “systematically” use the competition argument to avoid being held to responsibilities.Significant attention also was paid in the session to reports that a Greek blogger was arrested in recent days for having linked to a website critical of the Greek government.The industry representatives acknowledged a suggestion from the panel moderator that a corporate code of conduct might be considered as was done with South Africa in the time of apartheid.William New may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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