Was the Stockholm Internet Forum More Than Nice Words?

Was the Stockholm Internet Forum More Than Nice Words?

In his ending keynote Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs in Sweden, had many nice words to say about the future for Internet Freedom and what ought to apply but the question is how much of those where just words. He mentioned how “freedom on and off the net is an absolute key value today” but deflected the question about the data retention directive through referring to Sweden not having a choice about it. Bildt still compared his country to being better than USA in this aspect, even going as far as considering Europe to be a model for the USA in the area of surveillance.

Carl Bildt admits some wrong-doings in regards to the data retention directive in Sweden and says that “we haven’t done it completely right”. He goes on praising the freedom of speech in Sweden that he says is probably the strongest in the world, but avoids mentioning what kind of effects mass surveillance has in shaping self-censorship amongst people. He follows up being very proud that Sweden “is a country that censors nothing”. Bildt says that “the net is a reflection of society”, which he says is mostly good but also contains bad parts that need to be taken care of. In effect, a justification for applying mass surveillance in Sweden despite claiming that “human rights that are there offline, should apply equally (in the same way), online”.

The audience brought up the question about Sweden not offering Snowden asylum. Carl Bildt responded that he feels the question has been sorted out already and that Sweden ruled it out because Snowden “chose Russia first” which concluded the need for Sweden to offer asylum according to Carl Bildt. He also rejects the notion that Snowden’s revelations have been of importance by calling Snowden a “late-comer” and saying that Sweden had debated this “long before”.

Carl Bildt did not attend the Stockholm Internet Forum apart from the closing key-note and the first half of the following panel-debate. He left the conference “at his son’s insistence that he attends his end of year performance” which in effect cancelled the media session with him which was supposed to take place afterwards. A short media session was made at 13:00 and announced 30 minutes before that, through mail to the media present, which in effect limited the possibility for most to attend and ask harder questions about net freedom. With the main organizer gone during most of the conference and with some of the most important net freedom fighters (Snowden, Applebaum, Greenwald and Wikileaks) not invited one can ask how much impact the conference will have on the future fight for net freedom.

During the following panel debate it was discussed that “every country in the world does some type of surveillance, even before the internet”. Rasha Abdulla, Professor of mass communication in Egypt, said that “as a media scholar, I have seen nothing that is justification for mass surveillance”. Throughout the different panel debates the questions from the audience have been direct, poignant and difficult at times. Christopher Painter, Coordinator for Cyber Issues in the U.S. Department of State, was called out as hypocritical by the moderator as a consequence of the audience laughing when he said that the US doesn’t conduct mass surveillance.

At the end of the conference the conversation shifted to ‘ways to move forward on net freedom’. Some of the way mentioned was through building communities, bringing in news media to discussions on surveillance, forming media relationships, more discussions at high-level meetings and bringing other contexts to the debate in order to increase insights. Ending the conference the moderator raised an open question to the audience asking what they brought with them from SIF14 – It was followed by a very quiet audience until some participants brought up mostly critique in different forms asking for a more honest debate and criticizing the lack of “revolutionary ideas”.

One of the participants said that getting together once a year and talking about these issues did not bring enough. Citizens and young people are starting to believe that surveillance is necessary. “It doesn’t matter what we believe, since we are a very small number of people. Democracy will decide in the end”. What is needed is to bridge the digital divide between the ones that know and does that don’t. There is a need to bring people not already in the “know” to these type of meetings as well.

We’ve heard some names repeatedly, what disappoints me is that we haven’t heard other people’s name that have been jailed and put away for what they have done for Internet Freedom

Another participant complained that SIF was basically the same as last year and said that it needs to move to the next level with more concrete results coming from the conference. An example of how to do this practically is how the Netmundial sends document before conference, then works and improves them based on feedback. This is then repeated at other conferences where the same papers are sent around and improved several times before finalizing them. Having a conference like SIF is not working, since participants have “nothing concrete to work together on after the conference”. If there was a paper you had in common then you would have many more reasons to keep in contact with others.

Despite negativity around outcomes of conference #SIF14 managed to bring together hundreds of courageous people to meet, connect and debate important issues.

We wrote about day 1 of the Stockholm Internet Forum previously. This article portrays the second day of the conference. One of the main goals of the conference was to promote internet freedom.

Featured image: CC-BY-NC-SA, Javier Volcan