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8/29/2008
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Majority Favors Global Internet Bill of Rights

Key rights granted under the global Internet Bill of Rights would be freedom of information, freedom of expression, and the right of people to have affordable access.

Sixty-six percent of Internet stakeholders from government, industry, and society at large favor the establishment of a global Internet Bill of Rights, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey.

Two-hundred and six attendees of the second Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last November responded to the Pew Survey about the future of the Internet and how it should be governed.

"Global policymakers will likely find strong debate around the balance between maintaining a safe and secure Internet and protecting users' civil liberties," the survey concludes. "These tensions might be eased by adopting a global Internet Bill of Rights, a concept that has strong support among stakeholders."

Key rights granted under the global Internet Bill of Rights would be freedom of information, freedom of expression, and the right of people to have affordable access.

While respondents endorsed such ideas, they also appear to be aware that wishing for something does not necessarily make it so. Despite strong support (76%) for freedom of information on the Internet, 49% expressed doubts about the likelihood of a global agreement on Internet content controls.

At the same time, there's an element of naivete on display.

One respondent offered the comment, "Above all, political speech on the Internet should be protected globally."

That would be nice indeed, but given that political speech of the wrong sort can lead to imprisonment or worse for most of the world's people, seeking speech protection online amounts to putting the cart before the horse. Nations need to support free expression on the ground before they can do so in the ether.

Forty-seven percent of respondents agreed with the statement "The Internet has no center of gravity -- no one concentrated location of central control."

Thirty-six percent disagreed, most them recognizing the power the U.S. still wields over ICANN and the Internet's root zone files.

That power was evident in two letters the U.S. Commerce Department sent to ICANN recently, "slapping it upside the head," as Milton Mueller, a Syracuse University professor of information studies and a member of the Internet Governance Project, put it.

"The U.S. letter also strongly confirms our perception that the US wants governments to be in charge of ICANN policies rather than business and civil society stakeholders," Mueller explained in a blog post.

There's also an element of inconsistency among respondents' answers. Fifty-six percent of respondents supported the creation of a global police force to fight cybercrime. Yet 80% supported law enforcement on a national, rather than international, level for cybercrime conducted in their country and just 14% said Internet security is a key issue.

Such contradictions aside, the survey does highlight the extent to which the Internet is seen as a driver of future growth and well-being in the world economy. Eighty-seven percent of respondents believed their countries would suffer economically without more Internet access. Sixty percent said that global Internet access improves the economy through job creation. And 74% agreed that Internet access improves healthcare.

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