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DiploNews – Issue 91 – 18 October 2006

DiploNews – Issue 91 – October 18, 2006

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Internet Governance Forum

A delegation from Diplo will attend the first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece from 30 October to 2 November. Diplo will contribute to four workshops related to capacity building and will set up a stand in the Plaza exhibition area. Participants from this year’s Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme (IGCBP), along with the Diplo Internet Governance team, will participate in activities throughout the four-day event. IGCBP participants, who have just completed the research phase of the programme, will present their findings and will contribute to discussions.

In the nine months leading up to this meeting, Diplo has been actively engaged in a number of activities to raise awareness and to help in building communities by providing material such as booklets, DVDs, and visualisation tools. In early February 2006, just before the Geneva consultations (16-17 February 2006) Diplo hosted an international conference in Malta, entitled Internet Governance: The Way Forward, where major actors in the internet governance field discussed possible models for the Internet Governance Forum process. During the year, Diplo trained 78 participants on the Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme. It has conducted workshops on diplomatic and policy-making aspects of the Internet Governance Forum. Diplo also ran a workshop on internet governance for African decision makers and another on building national internet governance awareness in Egypt. These events were organized in collaboration with regional and international organisations, such as the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Highway Africa.

Spam and Internet Governance

For approximately one billion Internet users, spam is probably the most visible Internet Governance issue. So far, all legal, technical, and institutional attempts to curb spam have been unsuccessful. One of them, the UK-based organisation Spamhaus Project, creates “blocklists” of spammers. However, the Spamhaus Project’s activities were recently challenged by one US spam marketer who managed to win a court case against Spamhaus. This case has triggered fierce discussion over many issues, including:

  • ross-border legal issues in the globalised world–which legislation applies?

  • the power that a small group of volunteers can gain on the Internet (their system daily blocks millions of spam messages)

  • the drive of marketing companies to distribute spam with little regard for the law

  • the difficulties in getting removed from a spam blacklist

  • that every story has at least two sides.

Mending the Fences

Following reaction in many parts of the Muslim world to the speech of Pope Benedict XVI on 12 September 2006, during a lecture in Regensburg, the Vatican has used diplomacy to avoid the repetition of the Danish cartoon scenario and quell an emerging crisis in relations between the Catholic Church and Muslim communities around the world. During a subsequent, official meeting with ambassadors of Muslim countries accredited to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI called for the “relations of trust” established during the papacy of his predecessor John Paul II to be continued and urged for “more authentic reciprocal knowledge which . . . recognises the religious values we have in common and . . . respects the differences” (read the text of Pope Benedict's speech of 25 September). The reactions have been positive. High representatives of the Holy See were instructed to hold additional rounds of talks with religious and political leaders in order to clarify the Church’s position on Islam and promote inter-religious respect and understanding. Most visible and symbolic was the interaction of Cardinal Paul Poupard, who is in charge the pontifical councils for inter-religious dialogue and for culture, with chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, and Sami Salem, the imam of Rome's grand mosque in Rome.

Diplomacy and Teleconferencing

The question of data-protection in sharing air passenger data between the United States and the European Union was recently in the news. A new interim deal–reached after a nine-hour, trans-Atlantic video conference that took place nearly a week after negotiators missed an October 1 deadline–replaces a 2004 air passenger privacy agreement that the European Union's high court voided last May. It is interesting that the whole deal was negotiated remotely, a sign that technology is gradually moving into the diplomatic mainstream. Only few years ago it would have been unthinkable to negotiate such a delicate issue remotely without a face-to-face presence.

The United States and the European Union reached the new, interim anti-terror deal after months of wrangling, giving US law enforcement agencies access to passenger data on US-bound flights. Arduous negotiations revealed how far apart both sides are in how to balance fighting terrorists with personal freedoms.

Privacy restrictions tend to be tougher in Europe than in the United States, and the Europeans wanted to deny US officials the right to go into airline reservation systems. Under the new agreement, the US Homeland Security Department no longer will have an automatic right to pull data from European airline computer systems, but must ask for such information. EU officials said they shared Washington’s concerns about terrorism, but demanded strict data protection guarantees in return for a more routine sharing of personal details of air passengers among US law enforcement officials.

The new agreement lets airlines continue to legally submit 34 pieces of data–such as passenger names, addresses, seat numbers, credit card, and travel details–for transfer to US authorities within 15 minutes of a flight's departure for the United States.

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