CIPPIC and PIAC Join International Civil Society Groups in Declining to Endorse OECD Internet Governance Principles

| June 30, 2011

CIPPIC and PIAC, as members of the Civil Society Information Society Advisory Council (CSISAC) to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), have joined 80 international civil society groups in rejecting a set of OECD Internet policy-making Principles set out in a Communiqué on Principles for Internet-Policy Making.

The Principles, which have now been approved by the OECD as well as the Business and Industry Advisory Commitee (BIAC) and the Internet Technical Advisory Committee (ITAC), aimed to establish consistency in internatioal standards for Internet governance based on a multi-stakeholder model. CIPPIC was supportive of many of the Principles, particularly those aspiring to better privacy protection, the maintenance of factors that will maintain an open and innovative web, and to ensure multi-stakeholder processes underpin deicision making for Internet-related policy. However, the manner in which many of these Principles are implemented in the Communiqué serves not only to undermine their effectiveness, but also threatens human rights and freedoms in a way that CSISAC, as well as CIPPIC, are unable to endorse.

Of particular concern is the new role the Communiqué envisions for Internet intermediaries. As our daily lives and acitvities become intermediated online to increasing degrees, it is vitally important that the neutral conduit role of such intermediaries be maintained. These intermediaries have the potential to exert an unprecedented amount of surveillance and control over our activities. Canada is already facing such threats in the form of Lawful Access legislation that will mobilize intermediaries such as ISPs and other online service providers into agents of the state, tasked with helping law enfocement spy on their customers. For this reason, it is vital that the technical and legal principles which limit their ability to do so be protectd. The OECD Principles legitimize an expanded policing role for intermediaries, which threatens civil liberties and is inconsistent with end-to-end neutrality and the conduit nature of such entities.

Other concerns include the overriding protection awarded to intellectual property rights. The Principles not only protray an unbalanced view of intelletual property, which ignores important user exceptions such as fair dealing, but envision heavy handed and disproportional mechanisms for the protection of such rights. Strong exceptions that allow users and donwstream creators to innovate are at least as important to promotion of innovation and creativity as are intellectual property rights themselves -- particularly in the digital and online contexts. By ignoring tis balance inherent in IP protection, the Communiqué threatens to undermine the purpose of IP and particularly of Copyright. Worse, the expanded role the Communiqué suggests for online intermediaries such as ISPs in addressing and reducing IP infringement is out of touch with Canadian Copyright laws (which rely on a notice-notice system) and can have sever consequences for fundamental rights. As explained by Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, in his report to the 17th session of the UN Human Rights Council, mechanisms that rely on Internet intermediaries in order to address public policy issues such as IP infringement on their services and networks can lead to very serious and disproportionate harm to free expression. The online monitoring of customer activity inherent in such processes can also seriously impact on privacy rights.

By contrast to IP rights, protection offered by the Principles for fundamental rights such as privacy is minimal. While the Principles recognize the importance of privacy online and of empowering individuals to better understand how their personal information is disclosed and used, it appears to  fall short of endorsing norms of responsibility to ensure online services provide users with the control necessary to protect their privacy in an increasingly interconnected world. Instead, the Principles appear to rely on education and transparency as tools of online privacy protection. Worse still for privacy, many of the obligations the Princpiles aim to push onto Internet intermediaries cannot be carried out without increased e-surveillance capacity.

Similarly, the protection offered to foundational principles such as end-to-end neutrality are glaringly absent from the document. The document speaks of the importance of openness, but fails to mention the need to ensure non-discrimination by ISPs against the online services for which they provide access. Indeed, many elements of the Principles underming end-to-end neutrality, as the norms of responsiblity for achieving policy objectives that it aims to thrust onto ISPs will necessarily required them to gain knowledge of payload content that they do not currently possess.

It is due to these differences that CIPPIC was ultimately unable to endorse the Principles. However, CIPPIC is committed to the multi-stakeholder model that produced these Principles and that they attempt to enshrine. CIPPIC is of the view that providing civil society equal footing in Internet policy-making forums such as the OECD is key to resolving the many issues faced in online environments.