Internet Governance Forum to tackle issues about online safety, freedom

by Larry Magid

I’m in Baku, Azerbaijan, at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a United Nations-sponsored “multi-stakeholder” forum to discuss a wide variety of issues regarding Internet governance. Unlike many U.N. forums, IGF is attended not just by government officials but also by corporations, non-governmental organizations, and scholars interested in how to handle global Internet security, stability, growth and content management on the global Internet.

The IGF isn’t a legislative body — it’s a place to talk about Internet issues that serves as a backdrop to policy makers around the world who are struggling on how to manage the fact that we now live in a world that is virtually without borders.

One job of the IGF is to look at how countries can police the Internet against a wide variety of crimes including child pornography, money laundering, copyright infringement, spam and, of course, scams designed to separate people from their money. Sessions will focus on technological, legal and social solution aas well as how individuals can protect themselves.

I’ll be attending sessions on child pornography (otherwise known as child-abuse images) that is illegal in most but not all countries. The goal is to foster international cooperation between law enforcement and child protection organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States (whose board I serve on), the Internet Watch Foundation in the UnitedKingdom and representatives of Interpol, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

I’m here to participate in several panels related to child protection online, but my primary role — and that of several other speakers including my ConnectSafely co-director Anne Collier — will be to look at the social milieu of youths using the Internet. Many online issues that children face have nothing to do with crime.

If a child is being harassed online or winds up posting something embarrassing, the police aren’t going to help her as much as her online and offline peers and her parents and other caring adults. If a child gets in trouble for something they do wrong online — be it bullying, playful hacking, looking at porn or illegally downloading copyrighted material — the best responses come from peer pressure, parental involvement and firm but loving involvement by educators and other adults. And — most importantly — if a child is denied unfettered access, the solution lies not with law enforcement but with a national and local commitment to ensure access so all children can be citizens of the online global village.

I’ll be moderating a panel organized by the European Alliance for Child Safety Online titled, “The UN convention on the Rights of the Child — is it fit for purpose in the digital age?”

Other major issues at IGF include finding ways to extend human rights into the Internet and making sure that everyone has free and unfettered access. They’re lofty but challenging goals, especially in countries that censor their own citizens. Russia, for example, just started enforcing a law that gives the government the right to monitor citizens online and ban websites with objectionable content.

This column first appeared in Sillicon Valley Mercury-News.

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