Archive for April, 2015

Governance and the Internet

April 18, 2015

Orwell, Assange and  Snowden

Skill testing question…..what do these three have in common? All have been concerned with the state using technology to spy on and control its citizens. When George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, he recognised the issues, but had no idea of how the technology would develop to allow the state and others to spy on and influence citizens. When Julian Assange and Edward Snowden showed what and how the US government in 2014 actually collected, stored and used information in to spy on people at home and abroad, they confirmed Orwell’s warnings. Today, Assange shelters in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid arrest and deportation to Sweden; to avoid US authorities, Snowden resides in Moscow, where he was recently interviewed by John Oliver for a US television broadcast. Snowden had been the subject of a documentary film, CitizenFour.

In January 2013, Laura Poitras received an encrypted e-mail from a stranger who called himself Citizen Four. In it, he offered her inside information about illegal wiretapping practices of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies. Poitras had already been working for several years on a film about monitoring programs in the US that were the result of the September 11 attacks. In June 2013, accompanied by investigative journalist Glen Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill, she went to Hong Kong with her camera for the first meeting with the stranger, who identified himself as Edward Snowden. Several other meetings followed. The recordings gained from the meetings form the basis of the film. (Wikipedia).


Fast forward to today and the topic of the internet, what it is, what it does and what governments should do about it is the subject of numerous studies which bring together specialists from different disciplines to provide their analysis and recommendations. This material is extensive and often repetitive. One example of a paper providing an informed succinct survey of many of the issues is Melissa Hathaway, Connected Choices: How the Internet is Challenging Sovereign Decisions (Paper No. 11, April 2015 for the Global Commission on Internet Governance, CIGI and Chatham House. The Economist provides informed content of developing issues in the field.

The question posed here is whether we have been here before in dealing with a similar range of issues concerning the introduction of new communications technology. If so, then the caveat that “everything old is new again” may be a useful point of departure in discussing internet governance.

The Internet provides a means to create, store and transmit information which can be used for multiple purposes – messaging, banking, education, health services, news, book and magazine publishing, blogs, entertainment, delivery of government services, control of power grids, national defense, making and breaking criminal activities. Anything that can have an e- placed in front of it has internet implications.

Each of the listed activities has a formal and/or informal governance structure, sometimes one or more government departments or agencies, or governance organized by those involved in the activity. Thus, in Canada, the CRTC does it for telecommunications, and private producers for deciding whether food is “organic” or “gluten free.”

Given the pervasiveness of the internet, it may be ambitious to expect that it would be either easy or possible to arrange for its governance as a whole, as opposed to a particular activity which is internet related. Exhibit 1 summarises the difference between governance and government.


Exhibit 1.

“Governance refers to “all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization or territory and whether through laws, norms, power or language.” It relates to “the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions.” 

To distinguish the term governance from government: a government is a formal body invested with the authority to make decisions in a given political system. ” (Wikipedia)


The case of publishing

Consider publishing as one activity impacted by the internet, and the governing regimes which have grown up over time. Publishing has a long history from development of speaking, creation of letters, alphabets and words, preparation of documents first by hand, then the printing press and now electronic word processing and distribution.

Scribes in monasteries fought the introduction of the printing press which went through changes from the setting of lead type to the use of typewriters and computers. In the UK, it took a Rupert Murdoch to break the grip of unions representing lead typesetters, some of whom were retrained to type on keyboards. This was a labour issue related to changing technology and largely unconnected with regime change except for any relevant labour laws.


In this industry, governance comes to the fore when considering copyright:

 “The history of copyright law starts with early privileges and monopolies granted to printers of books. The British Statute of Anne1710, full title “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned”, was the first copyrights statute. Initially copyright law only applied to the copying of books. Over time other uses such as translations and derivative works were made subject to copyright and copyright now covers a wide range of works, including maps, performances, pantings, photographs, sound recordings, motion pictures and computer programs.”


Other rights, such as the moral rights of authors, evolved to increase the returns to authorship. Copyright was also used as censorship to assist the sovereign in managing news and opinions.

The terms of compensation and length of copyright ownership rights are constantly debated today, with authors lobbying to extend the protection granted to them by law. Note, a similar argument relates to patent rights, and is used by pharmaceutical and other firms to protect their intellectual property.

The accumulated protection has been weakened or undermined by the internet. It has reduced the ability of copyright owners to protect their rights. There are continual attempts to revise the laws and copyright regimes which exist to deal with electronic publishing and the use of material. This is red meat for the legal profession, which is paid to protect both owners and those seeking to introduce more competition into the intellectual property market. Economists have not done badly either as consultants in this debate.

A history of the regime for authorship, publishing and distribution, shows the way the regime has changed and is now affected by the new technology. In order to establish governance for the internet as a whole, it will be necessary to address each aspect of its impact, that is each industrial, social and political activity which is affected by it. Constructing one overall regime would seem to be a challenge to say the least. And considering there are around 200 countries in the world, each of which claims sovereignty in some sense, the challenge may be overwhelming.


The case of broadcasting

Fast forward to Canada in 2015, where debate swirls around the domestic regime for television. The broadcasting regulator has ruled that Canadians should, at last, be allowed to pick and pay for the channels they want to watch – as they do for food when they buy groceries in the supermarket. Previously, the regime has required that consumers be offered TV channels in bundles regardless of whether they wanted them, and some of these channels would be required to carry a certain amount of content that was branded as Canadian.

Branding meant application of a formula regarding such things as the nationality of the inputs used in the program. Requiring Canadians to view these programs proved impossible to enforce, and is even more so now with services like Netflix, YouTube and material available on the web.

The point is that the regime for broadcasting has evolved with a complex set of rules which benefited certain groups but ignored the interest of others, viewers in this case. The same thing is likely to happen when developing a regime for the wide range of activities which make use of the internet. Governance of individual activities is often complex, governance of the whole will be a Herculean task. Today about 40% of the world’s population of seven billion have internet access. In the next few years the figure is likely to rise to 80%.


An Older Adult?

April 14, 2015

In a neighbourhood park, the City of Ottawa has kindly placed a new bench. It is inscribed for the “Older Adult.” Not the old person, senior, pensioner, retiree or even old man (sorry person), shrively, wrinkly, old fart (or even something a little earthier).  I know I belong to the ranks of older adults. But is it not possible to use a phrase which describes clearly who I am? And how am I to know how old an older adult has to be to use this convenience?

Do Empires make a Difference?

April 5, 2015

The Ottoman and British Empires
Two decades before I was born, the Ottoman Empire ended and evolved into a group of new countries superimposed on old real estate. About the same time (1918-1960s) the British Empire also wound down. These large entities, both of which had had centuries of global political and economic influence, came to an end. They were followed by two superpowers or kind of empires, the U.S. and the USSR which exist today (the latter as Russia), both with waning influence, more so in the case of the USSR, and both engaged in international conflicts.

Fast forward to 2015. How are the influences of these two empires reflected in today’s geographical areas and issues of conflict? Empires make a difference, but often in unpredictable ways. Is it the case, that the toxic situations which now exist in the Middle East, North Africa, Greece, the former Yugoslavia and the Ukraine for example, can be linked to events surrounding both but especially the Ottoman Empire?

My schooling was deficient (probably in many ways). It exposed me to the history of the Roman and British empires, but with little attention paid to the Ottoman Empire. Understanding the rise and fall of the Ottomans may be a crucial factor in appreciating what is happening today. Those interested can view a three part BBC television series (available on the web) which provides an excellent summary of the rise and demise of the Ottomans.

Similarities and differences

  1. The genesis of the Ottoman Empire was a town in Turkey, whence it expanded to rule parts of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. A map shows the furthest scope of the Ottomans with its boundaries of influence waxing and waning over six centuries from the 1300s. See: (other maps on the web provide similar information.)


  1. Today’s Arab Spring and recent conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, and southern parts of what was the USSR such as the Ukraine and the Crimea, coincide with areas once controlled by the Ottomans. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a risky form of argument, but it may be worthwhile seeing whether the circumstances of the Ottomans help explain today’s conflicts.


  1. Another major player to consider at least for part of this period is the role of the British Empire. As a maritime empire with its lands spread around the world, the British, English at first, had a variety of preoccupations. North America evolved as a colony of settlement, at first with people mainly from what became the UK, and then from other European countries and later those from Asia and Latin America. Australia and New Zealand were also settlement colonies, unlike the Indian subcontinent where the British went mainly for reasons of trade in competition with other European countries, especially Portugal, France and the Netherlands in the East Indies. Maritime power and control over trade routes were crucial to Britain’s imperial development. In India, England interacted with an ancient civilization.


 “In the beginning there were two nations. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England. (Indian Summer, Alex Von Tunzelmann, 11).”


  1. Places like the West Indies, Gibraltar, Malta, Hong Kong and the Falkland Islands were colonised for reasons of either control over trade routes or for trade itself. British actions involving the Suez Canal were also trade related. While the Ottomans were not uninterested in trade, part of their motivation was to expand political control over neighbouring lands, and to tax the subject peoples


  1. The religious dimension was different for the two empires. While Christian missionaries were active in parts of the empire such as Africa, in India the British rulers were content to let the local religions (muslim, hindu, sikh) operate with minor interference to prevent practices like suttee (widow burning), which was outlawed by the British Raj in 1829. Trade predominated in British territorities, and different religions could pursue their traditional customs if they didn’t interfere with trade.


  1. The religious dimension of the Ottoman Empire was different. The lands they ruled embraced Christians, Jews, Muslims and other religious sects, and the holy places of worship in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. The Hagia Sofia, originally a Christian place of worship for the Greek Orthodox Church from 537 to 1483, converted to an Imperial Mosque until 1931 when it became a museum. The Ottomans appeared adept at ruling peoples of different religious faith. They extended their reach to neighbouring lands, but had little interest in developments taking place further afield, such as across the Atlantic. They appear to have imploded but for reasons other than religion. I am not sure why, but while the British Empire was continually revitalising itself, until it finally became overextended at least financially, the Ottomans were more inward looking and were gradually pushed back, especially after their defeat by the Austrians at Vienna in 1683.


    The two empires cooperated and competed at various times after 1800. The Crimean War (1853 – 1856) pitted Russia against an alliance of France, Britain and the Ottoman Empire. Competing religious factions saw the Russians promoting the interests of orthodox Christians and the French the rights of Catholics in lands controlled by the Ottomans. The British and French also allied to prevent the Russians gaining territory and power at the expense of the Ottomans who were declared “the sick man of Europe.” In particular, the British wanted to prevent Russia getting access to the Mediterranean which could threaten its trade route to the east. The Suez Canal opened in 1869, but the Mediterranean was seen as part of the trade route before this. Three Afghan wars were also fought by the British in order to prevent southward expansion by Russia, a country short of warm water coastal ports.


    The British and Ottoman empires came into direct military conflict when Turkey allied with Germany against Great Britain during WW1. Churchill promoted the action which led to the British defeat at Gallipoli in 1915, but overall defeat of the axis powers resulted in the final dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in the peace negotiations after 1918. Gallipoli also saw the rise of Ataturk as the Turkish ruler who would create a modern Islamic state where Christians and Muslims coexisted, although not always peacefully. Today Turkey has a leader who is leading more towards Muslim side of the coin.


  1. Today, the footprint of the British Empire is found in the Commonwealth, an association of 53 countries, two of which Madagascar and Rwanda were never part of the Empire. The member countries account for 25% of the world’s land area, about one-third of the world’s population and 17% of world GDP. If the US is added, the share of world GDP climbs to 35%. Before its rebellious exit, the US was the jewel in the imperial crown. The Commonwealth countries are united by a combination of language, history, culture, shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.


  1. A similar report card for the Ottoman Empire would be viewed less favourably in most parts of the world. The most obvious difference is that today, racial and religious violence is taking place in many of the places which were once ruled by the Ottomans. Even if there is not global acceptance of universal human rights, which are seen by some to be western-oriented rights, there is universal horror of the torture, beheadings and genocidal tendencies taking place in parts of the world. Most of these places were once part of the Ottoman Empire. Maybe it’s a coincidence and I repeat, post hoc ergo propter hoc is a tricky path to follow,but its worth thinking about. It coincides with David Pilling’s conclusion (Financial Times Feb. 27, 2015) that “The Middle East is completely imprisoned in the past. Nobody can let go.”