Blatant censorship is one thing. But who controls the controllers?
GOA, INDIA, 01 November 2006
Blatant censorship is fine. But who controls the controllers? What about the more subtle forms of control and blockages, that often can work in the more brutal ways of the unseen hand? APC member-organisation RITS’s Carlos Afonso, made this point strongly at the Internet Governance Forum in Athens.
Afonso underlined that it was difficult to deal internet-related issues "without considering the situation of regulation, legislation and control of the network itself."
He said: "Yes, we would pay for more bandwidth if we have the right to participate in decision-making regarding price formation of this bandwidth, and regarding pricing of this bandwidth." And he had questions: Why only discuss freedom of access, but not such issues? How come that, say, a country in Africa has to pay much more for bandwidth than any other country?
Afonso questioned the view that "the technical question is not as relevant as the other issues."
He argued that "very important aspects" at international fora, were not being dealt with. And he cited examples.
Said he: "I remember a hardware maker in California who used to say, look, my packet sniffer is the best on the market. I sell to anyone. The way they are used is not my concern. And this is the packet sniffer AT&T uses to sniff and copy data at gigabits-per-second speed in the United States. And a phone company in Brazil does the same to sniff and peek into packets of heavy traffic in Brazillian Internet exchange points and so on."
He raised the question about the responsibility of network operators "which we are not talking about".
This Brazilian campaigner has participated in the evolution of ICTs (information and communication technologies) since their introduction in the Latin American and Caribbean region, while always promoting and defending the interests of the "third sector".
Said Afonso: "Network operators feel the gap in terms of regulation regarding what can and what cannot be done because they have gone up one or two layers. They are now into transport, they are now into content. And there is no regulation, because the only thing we have regulated internationally …is at the level of telecommunications, is the ITU. Nothing else."
He argued that "these guys" then start to regulate themselves and start to block any kind of streaming traffic they decide should be blocked.
So, he asked, what is this responsibility of these network operators? What is the regulation that should be
established? What kind of regulation can we establish that does not interfere with certain cultural values and the basic differences that exist from one society to another?
Afonso argued: "We know that (blocks on) child pornography (share) a consensus. But what are other aspects of freedom of information? Of the flow of information that should be considered, you know, which can be accepted universally?"
He pointed out to the responsibility of network operators, and not just Cisco. "Cisco is just a hardware maker and seller. But these guys buy these equipment and do what they please with the network. Now we are losing more and more of the interactivity on the Internet because interactivity is being done in their own terms, not our terms as users," said Afonso.
He noted that the controlling players decide if voice over IP traffic can pass through an exchange point or not. And at what speed, or what quality of service.
"We are not allowed to talk to them about what policy they are using and what regulations should be established to guarantee that the flow of information which passes through these networks is really warranted. That it is the responsibility only of the users who generated this content and not a network operator. These points, we are not talking about here, and I am worried," he added.
Afonso is considered to have a broad knowledge of ICT issues. His experience is crosses across most of the issues related to ICTs: free software, digital inclusion, intellectual property, internet governance, and more.
Afonso is part of the RITS team, a NGO-oriented services and capacity-building network on information and communication technologies using the Internet as its main medium.
In the late 1960s, he was an important player fighting against the dictatorship in Brazil. He was in exile in Chile, Panama and Canada. During Brazil’s re-democratization process, Carlos worked for democratizing the access to communications.
The amnesty allowed Afonso to return to Brazil. Afonso and Herbert de Souza (known as Betihno) founded one of the most important Brazilian NGOs, the the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analysis, IBASE.
Afonso design, implemented and managed the AlterNex project, the first computer-based communications and information system in Latin America dedicated to serve civil society organizations. He is a co-founder of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).
In 1991-1992, Afonso proposed and coordinated the "UNCED Information Strategy Project in Rio" (UNCED ISP/Rio), the first Internet project specifically developed for a UN conference. ISP/Rio’s aims were to provide communications and information through the Internet so that organizations which had not been able to come to Rio was able to follow up on the events via the network.
One of his fields of specialization and expertise is Internet Governance and ICANN.