Any debate around the Internet, and its future, is complicated by there being many different but interrelated perspectives. Any analysis needs to consider these multiple perspectives as the pursuit of just one in isolation of others quickly leads to unacceptable or unworkable consequences. For example, many debates around privacy focus only on the person without considering the nature of the relationships with other parties or the context in which information is being used or the technical feasibility. It’s assumed to be someone else’s responsibility to assure my privacy (and security) – I want the benefits without the responsibility. Is that realistic? After all, it doesn’t happen in nature. Another is a view that Europeans assume their norms for privacy should be best practice, when the majority of nations have no privacy laws or even a privacy culture – often because they have a community-centric social culture that our consumer-centric societies have almost lost. How much do our relatively uninformed attitudes to assessing risk and accepting responsibility on the Internet increase or decrease our long term vulnerability?
The recent ruling by the European Court of Justice on the Right to be Forgotten has raised much international expert comment on the extent to which Europe has lost its sense of reasonableness and reality in changing global circumstances. Was it wise? Can it really work? Has it got unwanted consequences for more companies than first thought e.g. corporate email systems? Is it creating a whole new blame avoidance culture? Who is going to pay? (Note that Google has to investigate roughly the same number of requests in a day that the UK regulator has to consider in a year). Is it sustainable when someone can log on to an Internet search engine in a non-EU country and see the information anyway? Will companies relocate outside the EU to avoid costs of compliance? The principle may be good, but there is little confidence in the current legalistic approach.
The European tendency is to legislate for solutions to problems caused by US technologies. Do we need a different approach and different mindset to give us what we want?
Why are we in this situation in the first place? Part of the answer is that the Internet was never designed to have the mechanisms and controls for managing and protecting information in the first place. So, if we want the future governance of the Internet to meet new legal, policy and societal requirements to keep it safe, private (where it needs to be) and increasingly beneficial, then we have to put in place matching technological solutions. Unfortunately for EU policy makers, today’s dominant technologies are from the US and the technical standards are international. If we, in Europe, want to have the technologies that meet our European needs, we require to develop a stronger European technology base and to work with US organisations that influence US technology development and service providers. Either that or we try to build a European Internet – but wouldn’t that just become an EU island? Vice-President Kroes made this very clear in a speech on 28 February 2014 regarding the EU Cyber Security Strategy. She highlighted that; we need to address technology vs democracy - we need both; it's about data protection not data protectionism; we need more European technologies if we are to decrease our dependence on US technologies; these will make Europe a good place to do digital business.
Where can these important collaborative discussions happen? It is in neutral, all-party projects such as MAPPING where the many different and competing perspectives are starting to be considered and to connect.