Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Friday, July 30, 2010


Last night at its annual general meeting InternetNZ made me a Fellow of the Society. This puts me in a very small group with people who have done amazing things, such as Internet pioneer Professor John Hine, Liz Butterfield who founded NetSafe and Hector’s World and Peter Dengate Thrush who is the chair of ICANN. I am deeply honoured.

posted by colin at 8:35 am  

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Who owns the Internet?

According to Stuff, the US – or at least, some its senators – consider the Internet a national (i.e. American) asset and believe that the US President should be able to shut it down. Gosh.

By the same logic, the UK owns the international postage system. The Queen should be empowered to shut that down at will.

Seriously, it’s hard to doubt that the US could completely crash the Net if it chose. But it would be an act of infamy that would damage the economies of the rest of the world far worse than the banking crisis. How much more bad press do they need?

posted by colin at 4:52 pm  

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The gathering storm

I make no apology for using Sir Winston Churchill’s title for the first volume of his history of the Second World War to describe the culture war between those who would capture ideas for their exclusive use and those who would disseminate them widely.

It’s not a straightforward issue. On the one hand, most of us would accept that there is value in providing an incentive to create clever things that ultimately benefit many people. That’s the public good argument for copyright and patents. On the other, our culture and our technology are built on the work and ideas of others and controlling people’s access effectively controls our development as a species.

These are important matters that need a global consensus. What I’m seeing at the moment is an attempt to enclose the commons of ideas for the benefit of a few and to detriment of us all. That’s been the case for a century at least, but the arrival of the Internet has pushed things to a whole new level.

That brings me to ACTA, the treaty being negotiated in secret by our government and others, which is at least partly about the interaction of copyright and the Internet. I’ve railed against the secrecy around ACTA before, because it prevents the ordinary people whose lives will be affected from having a say in it.

There have been some remarkable revelations about ACTA in the last few days. Firstly, there have been three leaks. The text of the Internet chapter, an analysis of some countries’ views on transparency of the agreement, and an analysis of each country’s negotiating position on the Internet chapter of the draft ACTA agreement. We don’t know where the leaks are coming from, but it’s clear that many people negotiating the agreement are unhappy with the insistence of secrecy coming from (we now know) the US, South Korea and Denmark.

Nat Torkington has analysed the New Zealand positions from the latest link. New Zealand’s negotiators are pushing for clarity, for reasonableness and for transparency. Good on them. It looks as though New Zealand is making its view more felt than many other countries. Even so, what we end up with, of course, is not just up to New Zealand.

People in our government are listening about the lack of transparency. Our negotiators have just issued a call for submissions on some points of the Internet chapter ACTA by 31 March. This, coupled with the leaks, offers ordinary people a chance for some kind of say. So does the PublicACTA event to be hosted by InternetNZ on April 10th, right before the next round of ACTA negotiations which are to be held here in Wellington the following week.

It’s good that we have found out more about ACTA – even if it is mostly through unacknowledged “leaks”. It’s good that New Zealand is pushing for transparency. We need to empower our negotiators and those in like-minded countries to reject the extreme positions that some of the other countries are taking. Do consider sending a submission, even if it’s just “the current model works well, don’t change it”. I’ll write some more detailed points and publish them here well before the deadline.

However, it’s still appalling that a treaty that will affect everyone is being negotiated in secret, with an agenda being pushed by one industry based mainly in one country which won’t let the secrecy be lifted for fear that other countries’ citizens won’t let them stay in the negotiations.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. We’ve had a glimpse of it. Let’s throw the curtains wide.

posted by colin at 11:49 am  

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mr Jackson goes to Wellington

On Thursday I presented my submission on Software Patents to the Commerce Select Committee of Parliament. It was a fascinating experience, and one which is open to all New Zealanders.

posted by colin at 2:24 pm  

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A visit to icann

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about my recent visit to an ICANN meeting. ICANN is the body which runs the core names and numbers used on the Internet. Read on for my notes and links or pull the podcast.

posted by colin at 11:51 am  

Monday, February 11, 2008

A passage to India

I’m in Delhi at a meeting of ICANN, the body which runs the core Internet domain name and number systems. It meets three times a year in a different world city every time. I’m doing some work for ICANN as part of a review team; but I already know many of the people here from my days as president of InternetNZ.

I don’t think I’m going to have time to see much of Delhi, unfortunately. It’s also a lot colder here than I believed it could be – I’m far too cold sitting round in a business suit. Most people have winter woolies on!

posted by colin at 4:51 pm  

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A New Zealander elected to chair ICANN

It has just been announced that Peter Dengate Thrush will be ICANN’s new chair.

ICANN is the body that runs the core of the Internet – the domain name system and address allocations. Until yesterday, it was chaired by Vint Cerf, one of the Internet’s inventors. Big shoes to fill, although I am sure Peter will prove equal to the task.

Peter has been involved in Internet governance since the early days. He is one of the founders of InternetNZ, and like me is a former president of that body. Peter has worked with ICANN since before there was an ICANN, and with the rest of the New Zealand contingent he has played a big part in moulding ICANN into what it is today.

I hope Peter gets a few days to bask in the vote of confidence he has received through his election before he gets down to work.

Congratulations Peter.

posted by colin at 11:40 am  

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