Wednesday, November 2, 2011
When the UK first proposed a high level event on the Internet, the initial agenda emphased cybercrime. Instead, the London Conference on Cyberspace in the Queen Elizabeth Conference Hall over the past two days focused on the net’s liberating power.
Representatives of 60 nations gathered. The guest list included many champions of freedom of expression - both government officials and on-the-ground activists. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Yemeni blogger Atiaf Al-Wazir, and Estonian President Toomas Ilves stressed how the Internet promotes freedom, allowing the individual to speak out in new, powerful ways.
The Estonian President recounted how his country suffered a massive cyberattack in 2007. Instead of responding by shutting down the net, he encouraged his country to strengthen its embrace of the digital world. Estonians last year used the Internet to cast their ballots in parliamentary elections.
Much of the talk at the conference centered on the Net’s economic benefits. On the screens in the main hall, slides showed figures from the Boston Consulting Group’s Internet impact study showing that the digital economy now accounts for 7% of the UK’s GDP and is predicted to rise to 10% by 2015. Full disclosure: Google sponsored these reports. Separately, McKinsey presented a new report on the impact of the Internet on economic growth.
Of course, the conference also discussed the challenges of Internet security. A day before the conference opened, the intelligence agency GCHQ warned that cyberattacks on the UK were at "disturbing" levels.
But UK Foreign Minister William Hague spoke out foremost about freedom. “Nothing would be more fatal or self-defeating than the heavy hand of state control on the Internet, which only thrives because of the talent of individuals and of industry within an open market for ideas and innovation," he said. Hague warned against “state-imposed barriers to trade, commerce and the free flow of information and ideas”.
The UK conference organisers plan to hold follow-up meetings. “We will develop into the 'London Agenda' - an inclusive and focused approach to help us realise the enormous potential cyberspace offers for a more prosperous, safe and open networked world," the UK Foreign Minister concluded. At Google, we are hopeful that supporters of a free and open Internet will continue to speak out.