Civil Society Groups Reject OECD Internet Policy Principles

The OECD is meeting this week in Paris for a meeting on the Internet economy. The meeting features many government leaders and is expected to conclude with a Communiqu̩ on Principles for Internet Policy-Making. This builds on the June 2008 OECD meeting in Seoul, Korea that not only placed the spotlight on Internet economy issues, but opened the door to participation of civil society groups in OECD policy making. That was a big step forward, but today there was a major step back as the civil society groups Рnow representing over 80 organizations from around the world under the name CSISAC Рannounced that it was withdrawing its name from support of the draft OECD communique.

A detailed explanation behind the decision can be found here, but a shorter release explains significant concerns behind language that would encourage steps toward filtering and blocking online content as well as the adoption of graduated response systems that could result in terminating Internet access.  As CSISAC notes:

The final Communiqué advises OECD countries to adopt policy and legal frameworks that make Internet intermediaries responsible for taking lawful steps to deter copyright infringement. This approach could create incentives for Internet intermediaries to delete or block contested content, and lead to network filtering, which would harm online expression. In addition, as has already happened in at least one country, Internet intermediaries could voluntarily adopt “graduated response” policies under which Internet users’ access could be terminated based solely on repeated allegations of infringement. CSISAC believes that these measures contradict international and European human rights law.

The release concludes:

CSISAC calls on OECD member states to take a stand to combat digital censorship and uphold international human rights standards, including the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, to freedom of information, to privacy and to the protection of personal data, which are the cornerstones of democracy. Any Internet policy guidelines developed by the OECD should be grounded in legal principles that are widely accepted, and be compliant with international human rights standards. It is inappropriate for such guidelines to be derived from ad hoc regulations and policy experiments that have been adopted in a small number of countries, especially since the impact of these regulations is still far from clear. We invite member states of the OECD to protect the open Internet and make a public commitment to opposing Internet filtering and blocking by intermediaries, to affirm existing limitations on intermediaries’ liability, and to support due process and judicial review of allegedly illegal content and behavior.

As I noted last week, this is consistent with the Canadian position that has thus far rejected Internet filtering, blocking, and three-strikes proposals for ISPs. Canada has played a lead role in the OECD efforts on the Internet economy, including hosting the first Ministerial meeting on the issue in 1998 and serving as Chair for the 2008 meeting in Korea.  It should maintain that leadership by urging the OECD to work with civil society and not endorse the document as it currently stands.


  1. Don’t bite off your nose …
    @CSISAC “… it could encourage states to use Internet intermediaries to police online content, undermining freedom of expression, privacy and innovation across the world.”

    While copyright infringement is a significant problem I do not think its serious enough of an issue to curtail freedom of expression, privacy and even impacting innovation which has actually been shown to be the only effective deterrent of infringement to date.

    Commercial scale infringement, where companies are profiting through counterfeiting or more likely generating ad income on unauthorized content, should continue to be policed and prosecuted. While non commercial activities would best be addressed using innovation to broaden legal alternatives. This will significantly mitigate, though admittedly never eradicate, losses to common ‘piracy’ while still allowing for the positive effects that freedom of expression brings.

  2. I should clarify that litigation and sanctions against non commercial infringement are viable tools that can be brought to bear. It is my observation though that these have been ineffective, costly and even counter productive in many respects.

    While some efforts using these methods may be needed, too heavy a hand will result in a technological ‘war’ that will be unlikely to improve the situation. A more progressive rather reactive approach is needed from all players.

  3. Technological ‘war’
    This is not where they want to go. Hackers, crackers, dissidents and the like are, and always will be, ahead of the game when it comes to using technology. It’s a losing battle and it will not end well for industry. Law enforcement and private industry will spend vast amounts of money trying to track down the above mentioned and may even catch the odd person, but that money that would serve a far better purpose if used to track down more insidious criminals and invested in to innovation and new services to lure people away from the “dark side”.