NetHui 2014: New Zealand discusses the next 25 years of the internet

NetHui 2014 was the fourth annual meet up of the New Zealand internet community. Hosted by InternetNZ the theme was Shaping Our Future Together: The Internet in 25 years. Judging by attendance numbers and the quality of discussion, the future of the internet in New Zealand is bright indeed. More than 500 people attended (a new record), 47% for the first time, including people from the wider Asia Pacific region. There were new voices and different conversations supported by a strong nethui-kaupapa values statement that NetHui is a community event where everyone’s opinions and ideas are equally valued.

There are clear signs this community space is growing and evolving, helped by a well constructed programme. Strong statements emerged from the Maori Meet Up and Youth Forum on Day 1 which took place alongside the New Zealand Internet Technical Architecture conference. The Youth Forum developed a succinct set of six principles for the internet: net neutrality, education, media literacy, safety, accessibility and a focus on skills for the future including adaptability.

There were stimulating sessions on the vision for the internet in the next 25 years with sessions on privacy, education, data journalism, e-voting, open data, crypto-currencies, health, and much, much more. A particular highlight for me was to see the strengthening and maturing of internet rights discussions. At the first NetHui in 2010, discussion focused on the simple “whether and, if so, how human rights apply online”. This year rights-related issues seemed to come up in many sessions including e-voting, open data, education, accessible design, privacy, and internet governance.

The range of rights being focused on is also expanding and becoming an explicit focus for political engagement. At the Parliamentary Panel on Digital Rights there seemed to be consensus on the simple notion that the same human rights we have offline also apply online – this echoes the New Zealand government endorsement of the recent United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on Human Rights and the Internet.

Women’s rights and gender issues were also visible. Powering Women Using the Net focused on using the internet “as a force for good in moving beyond gender stereotypes and harnessing the diversity in our society.” Facilitators Viv Chandra (@vivsister81 Amnesty International) and Emily Sutton (co-founder of HVnger magazine) facilitated a conversation on how to help women move forward, regardless of their circumstances. Participants created #nethuiwomen and, in response to some fiery debate and the sheer volume of issues raised, decided to keep the conversation going by hosting a barcamp on gender issues the following day. The result was some pause for reflection on how all those at NetHui can live up to the kaupapa and some great recommendations for improving women’s rights discussions (which we’ll highlight in a separate, forthcoming article).

In the area of privacy-related rights, the Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, gave a not to be forgotten presentation on the right to be forgotten. Focusing on recent case law in the European Union, the entertaining and stimulating presentation sparked a lively Q and A and follow-up panel, with Thomas Beagle from TechLiberty vigorously defending the view that privacy is not dead. As the fun-loving MC Michele A’Court so cleverly put it: “If privacy is dead, why are we all wearing pants?”

The right to be forgotten discussion also focused on ethics. On the first day, I posed the questions, inspired by a conversation with a 70-year-old friend: Are we seeking to resolve internet rights issues with a pre-internet moral framework? Is a new moral framework needed? One response came the following day in the session on privacy, when a participant posed the question: In an age where we cannot be forgotten, must we also become more forgiving?

The level of engagement in internet rights has grown significantly and this trend is likely to continue. InternetNZ really has nailed how to host this key event, with InternetNZ CEO Jordan Carter leading a great team of organisers. I left NetHui 2014 feeling inspired and very hopeful for the next 25 years of the internet in New Zealand.

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