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UN Forum Focuses On Internet's Future

Discussion topics will include freedom of speech and access, along with combating spam, phishing, and child pornography.

The UN's Internet Governance Forum will hold its first meeting Oct. 30 to discuss the future of the Internet, especially as it relates to access, security, diversity and emerging issues.

Participants met this week to prepare for the forum, which will take place in Athens, with online Webcasts and participation through blogs. Access, control, diversity, combating child pornography, spam, phishing, freedom of speech, Internet control and network protocols.

Nitin Desai, who will chair the meeting, said the technology is young and people have not really sorted out how the Internet should be treated. He compared debates about the Internet to those about the chemical composition of ink and the design of the paper when the printer was invented, which missed the point.

"The real impact of printing was completely for other reasons altogether, and I sometimes feel that we are not even asking the right questions, in many of these discussions, but that will come," Desai said. "This is a very young technology. There's lots of time to get things right."

He said the Internet has helped maintain access to information in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq.

"Do not underestimate what this technology has already done in democratizing access to information ... most important of all in political mobilization," he said, adding that the treaty banning landmines could not have been possible without Internet connections between the countries involved.

Desai said that much of the discussions about the Internet recently have centered on the tension between openness and control.

"This has always been there and it will always be there," he said. "We will always have to continue to act to protect it because it is in the very nature of government to try and restrict people's liberties."

He said that the forum would give representation to everyone with a stake in the Internet and promote discussions to "keep people honest."

For problems like child pornography and spam, Desai said that existing laws prohibit those acts. The Internet just poses new problems in terms of scope and being able to track down culprits, he said.

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