restricted access 1 Access Contested
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1 Access Contested Toward the Fourth Phase of Cyberspace Controls Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain November 2009, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. At a large conference facility in the middle of a desert landscape, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is in full swing. Thousands of attendees from all over the world, lanyards draped over their chests, bags stuffed with papers and books, mingle with each other while moving in and out of conference rooms. Down one hallway of the massive complex, a large banner is placed outside a conference room where a book launch is about to begin. The OpenNet Initiative (ONI) is holding a small reception to mark the release of its latest volume, Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace. As part of the planned proceedings, members of OpenNet Asia plan to show clips of a short documentary they have produced on information controls across Asia. Before the event gets under way, an official from the United Nations—the forum’s host—asks to speak to the ONI’s Ron Deibert. The official is upset about the distribution of small pamphlets that invite attendees to the book reception, in particular about the reference to Tibet on the back (which he encircles in pen to make his point). He asks that no more such pamphlets be distributed. Deibert reluctantly agrees, since the event is about to begin. But one incident leads quickly to another. An ONI research associate is now carrying the large banner back from the hallway, this time escorted by the same official, another official, and a security guard. The banner is placed on the floor while discussions take place. Deibert asks what the problem is now, to which the official replies that the reference to the “Great Firewall of China” is unacceptable to one of the state members and that the poster must be removed. An animated discussion follows, with people gathering . The growing crowd of onlookers pulls out mobile phones, snaps photos, starts rolling videos, and sends tweets out to the Internet about the furor. The security guards remove the banner from the book reception, and the event continues. Following the reception, people assemble videos of the controversy and post them to YouTube. Press inquiries begin, and soon there are stories and posts about the event, including an image of the banner in question on BBC, CBC, and other news outlets around the world. What was a sleepy book reception has turned into a political melee. 4 Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain Onlookers’ accounts differ from those made by the IGF executive coordinator, Markus Kummer, and these differences stir up confusion. Kummer claims the reason the banner was removed had nothing to do with the reference to China, but rather that no banners or posters are allowed in the IGF, a claim that is clearly contradicted by dozens of other commercial banners spread throughout the massive complex. The now-infamous IGF ONI book reception illustrates in one instance the current state of cyberspace contestation. Rather than overt censorship, a member state pressures UN officials at the IGF to remove a poster that alludes to practices (in this case, technical censorship) they would prefer not be mentioned. Meanwhile China is engaging in a forthright campaign to neutralize the IGF, pushing instead for Internet governance to be moved to a more state-exclusive forum. Perhaps not surprisingly, the IGF president seems loath to annoy the member state, perhaps for fear of stirring up yet more animosity toward the IGF. But the quiet show of authority does not go unchallenged—documented by dozens of social-media-enabled activists and attendees , accounts of the event ripple outward to become a media storm. A little over a year later, events in Egypt take a dramatic turn as the country is embroiled in protests. The contests in the street are to an unknown degree organized over the Web and documented there, with the Egyptian authorities ordering all Internet service providers (ISPs) to shutter services.1 While the country is effectively severed from the Internet, supporters of the Egyptian demonstrators worldwide share strategies on repairing the broken connections. Everything from ham radios and satellite phones to primitive dial-up connections is employed. Eventually, the Egyptian authorities relent on the blackout, but the contests in cyberspace continue. Egyptian authorities order the country’s main cell phone carriers to send out mass SMS texts urging proMubarak supporters...