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Friday, November 03, 2006

Internet Governance Forum takes on China, US

Global net issues were discussed this week at the IG Forum in Athens with some Monty Python-like comments from the Chinese participants. Look here for more on the US tracking technology used to capture dissidents especially the Falun Gong.

It was a surreal moment, especially when the Chinese diplomat was asked to elaborate on the restrictions that were in place in China. His response: "We do not have restrictions at all." To which someone in the audience shouted out,"Come on!"

Day two: China doesn't censor the Internet. At all.

The IGF meeting has four main foci: openness, security, diversity, and access. The first major session on day two was the openness panel, and it was headed by BBC News presenter Nik Gowing. After the panelists introduced themselves, Gowing asked the crowd what they wanted to talk about for the next few hours, and it didn't take long for the topic to turn to China.

Steve Ballinger of Amnesty International took the microphone second and wanted to talk about IT companies "that have colluded with repressive countries, particularly in China." An Agence France reporter was "very interested in the Cisco participation in this panel because I would like to ask him what happened with the software material they've sold to the Chinese police." And with that, the panel was off and running.

With members of the BBC, Microsoft, Cisco, human rights organizations, social justice NGOs, and the European Court of Human Rights on the panel, there was plenty to talk about�and participants did so, for quite some time. This was apparently too much for Yang Xiaokun, a Chinese diplomat to the UN in Geneva, who stood up and defended his country. "In China, we don't have software blocking Internet sites. Sometimes we have trouble accessing them. But that's a different problem," he said.

This, of course, is a bizarre claim to make, and no one on the panel bought it. Xiaokun went on to add, "I've heard people say that the BBC is not available in China or that it's blocked. I'm sure I don't know why people say this kind of thing." Richard Sambrook of the BBC then let him know exactly why people say this kind of thing, saying, "If he was in China he would not be able to listen to our Mandarin service on short wave radio and not be able to read our Mandarin news site on the website."

It was a surreal moment, especially when the Chinese diplomat was asked to elaborate on the restrictions that were in place in China. His response: "We do not have restrictions at all." To which someone in the audience shouted out, "Come on!"

The discussion hit on several other topics, of course, including the WIPO broadcasting treaty. Jamie Love of the Consumer Project on Technology garnered applause from the audience by arguing that intellectual property laws are divorced from the ways in which people actually use digital content, and that the two approaches need to be reconciled. "WIPO has to sort of get the message that, you know, the people are right and the lawyers are wrong on some of this stuff and kind of move things back in the other direction."

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