Saturday, 28 April 2007

Do the dangers of the uncontrolled internet require an international agreement to protect us against child porn, international terrorism etc?

‘The internet is the fabric of our lives. If Information Technology is the present day equivalent of electricity in the industrial era, in our age the Internet could be likened to both the electrical grid and the electric engine because of its ability to distribute the power of information throughout the entire realm of human activity.’ –Manuel Castells.

The above quote puts into perspective my blog on the Internet, its inherent dangers, and arguments for and against controls. The Internet is a global communications medium that allows its estimated 1.1 billion users to engage in commercial, financial, recreational, educational, and governmental matters. It has no boundaries and no borders; users can communicate, obtain information, or conduct business across the globe in moments. It is a neutral technology that can be and is used predominantly for good effect; however, criminals also transit cyberspace.
Its use as a communication system worldwide, according to Castells Manuel (2001), blossomed by the end of 1995 as the first year of widespread use of the World Wide Web with sixteen million users.

Since then, the world’s billions appear to have adapted Internet use to the extent that areas with poor or no access, due to inappropriate telecommunication facilities, have contrived ways of logging onto what pundits describe the Information Super Highway. A great disparity exists between Internet use in the developed and developing worlds where Internet speed, cost of access and poor infrastructure are key setbacks. Recognizing the limitless opportunities this information exchange or sharing portal avails to the public, concerns have been expressed about the inherent dangers of the Internet and arguments proffered for its curtailment or stricter regulations.

In The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business and Society, the author recounts his excitement about a headline ‘New Uses of Internet in Colombia’ thinking the Internet finally provided a ‘small sign of light at the end of the tunnel’ of Colombia’s violence. To his dismay, the author reveals that indeed extortionists and kidnappers resorted to the internet to distribute hundreds of threats through electronic mailing lists, then proceeded to selective kidnapping to enforce their threats. That way they cashed in on their Internet-based, mass-produced extortion business. This is only a part of how evolving society appropriates the Internet criminally.

Manuel Castells’ experience to an extent reinforces the belief that the Internet is becoming a bully pulpit from which the disgruntled broadcast their frustration to the world at large.

I will like to refer to a speech delivered by Anetta Tousheva of Bulgaria’s State Agency for Child Protection (SACP), when she spoke on ‘Protecting children’s rights in the information society’ at the South Eastern Conference on Cyber Security Co-operation in Sofia in September 2003. Making a note of the positive impact of the transition to the information society, she acknowledged many negative effects of this transition which concerned, to a high extent, children who are among the most active users of Internet.

According to her, the first initiatives and projects in Bulgaria designed for the preparation of children for a competent, safe and responsible behaviour in Internet started in 1996/1997. Examples for that are some projects of the Bulgarian Section of the European Association of Teachers (AEDE such as “Internet in the Classroom”, “The Dark Side of Internet”, etc. Among main objectives was the enhancement of the awareness of students, teachers and parents on the risks and threats to the security of children in the net, on the ways to protect children from harmful and illegal content and on crimes and abuses in Internet. Within the period 1996-1998, teachers and students in several schools in Sofia received training in issues including: child pornography and pedophilia on the Internet, abuse of personal data and threats to privacy, Internet censorship debates, the illusionary anonymity of the net, fraud and cyber crimes, etc. A student’s e-mail competition themed “The Dark Side of Internet” was arranged during which students found out from their own research about Internet problems relating to rights violations in the cyber world, possibilities for efficient protection and safety behaviour rules.
Many internet pioneers saw cyberspace as a free and open space in which to exchange knowledge and ideas, unencumbered by the kinds of regulation and control applied to previous generations of communications networks. However, as the scenario analysis seeks to draw out, the internet is not one community, but a complex of communities, each with its own objectives and expectations. Stakeholder interests are likely to conflict in many areas.

Advocates for internet content controls have a concern that stretches beyond what readily rolls off their lips: child pornography, sex tourism, international terrorism, drug smuggling etc. The uncontrollable nature of the Internet in its present form reveals the weakness of long-established procedures of policing, rooted in the powers already present in all governments worldwide because of their inability to stop the communication flows that they have banned within their borders-be it Falun Gong messages in China, the memoirs of Mitterrand’s doctor in France, or the auctioning of valid absentee ballots for American elections over the Internet in the United States (the website was moved to Germany) (Castells Manuel 2001). States’ sovereignties are rooted in their abilities to control information. The Internet undermines that ability.

A discussion of Internet controls cannot be de-linked from the existence and role of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). It also cannot be divorced from recent public disagreements between the United States and Europe over proposals to strip ICANN, a U.S non-profit organisation, off its internet governance or control role. ICANN is responsible for the global coordination of the Internet's system of unique identifiers. These include domain names (like .org, .museum and country codes like .UK), as well as the addresses used in a variety of Internet protocols. Computers use these identifiers to reach each other over the Internet. Careful management of these resources is vital to the Internet's operation, so ICANN's global stakeholders meet regularly to develop policies that ensure the Internet's ongoing security and stability. Prior to and since the November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a number of countries have pressed for ICANN to handover its oversight role to a new organization that would be part of the U.N. system. Arguments have been made that advocates of this arrangement make no claims that the current system is flawed. Instead, they focus on the supposed "injustice" or "inappropriateness" of a system overseen by an American agency. Those who tow this line of argument suggest an ulterior motive behind the clamor for change. The suggestion is that those who clamour for the change include regimes that have taken measures to control their citizens' access to the Internet and have championed global controls over Internet content. These include some of the world's most repressive states: Cuba, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Some assert that other governments have weighed in to support U.N. oversight, either out of anti-Americanism, a reflexive commitment to international governance or a belief that Internet content needs to be reined in. Russia, Malaysia and Singapore have applauded the deliberate attitude of major governments to clamp down on the internet to, in a nutshell, neutralize the ordinary citizen’s ability to share information. Their supporting proposals are aimed at greatly extending government’s power on wiretapping and interception of data traffic and to establish an obligation for Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) to set traceability techniques for their users, as well as forced notification of users’ identities at the request of government agencies, in a very wide range of situations, and in circumstances vaguely defined.
Pro-internet pundits argue highly in favour of an information society devoid of restrictions either through controls or agreements. Researchers Wilsdon J., and Miller P. (2001) assert in Living in a networked world that the Internet is transforming the way we live, work and do business by providing the dynamism and creativity that drives the new economy; that it provides equity-possibilities in the forms of social inclusion and interaction and finally an explosion of new opportunities to tackle the challenges of sustainability. They present questions whose answers, in their view, show the potential of the Internet, through e-commerce, to bring about wider social and environmental benefits. A recap of their assertions includes suggestions that the Internet helps creative minds to develop entirely new ways to deal with old problems.
I share the argument proffered by Castells Manuel that global surveillance encroaches on free speech. Agreeably free speech was the essence of the right to unfettered communication at the time when most daily activities were not related to personal expression in the public realm. He argues that currently most human activities of work, leisure and personal interaction is undertaken online. Therefore, if the average human life is lived online it will be utterly unheard of for Big Brother to be actively seen and known to be monitoring every deed or expression the Internet’s billion patrons engage in. That would lead to an extent a certain sense of internalized censorship. Worse still, under repressive regimes the people’s inalienable freedom to expression as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations will be eroded.
As an advocate of media or platforms that promote the frontiers of free speech, I oppose an international agreement to rein in the uncontrollable nature of the internet. However I believe in the rule of law. Laws, courts, regulatory agencies and allied bodies, be they corporates, the media, the public sphere where opinion is shaped, should be well versed in the statutes that mandate them to deal and seek remedial action in instances where personal liberties and freedoms have been violated. In my research into this subject, I have keenly followed the March 2007 trial in the American state of Philadelphia a case that was brought before Federal Judge Lowell Reed. According to the BBC, Judge Reed overturned a law designed to protect children from viewing internet pornography, saying it violated the right of free speech. The law made it illegal for websites to provide children access to "harmful" material, but it was never enforced. Judge Lowell Reed of Philadelphia said other means of protection, such as software filters, were more effective. Opponents criticized the ruling, saying parents should not have to shoulder the burden of restricting adult material. But what I found most astute in his judgement was what he wrote after delivering judgement “I may not turn a blind eye to the law…to protect this nation’s youth by upholding a flawed statute, especially when a more effective and less restrictive alternative is readily available” .

There’s a need to govern the internet in ways that ensure reasonable equity in the digital space for the needs of the many different stakeholders. Informal systems are not enough. Pressure is mounting for more formal protection in areas like fraud, privacy and security. As the role of governments is not entirely clear, each of the scenarios would benefit from effective and transparent governance, with clear rules and norms established for redress and consumer protection.

The borderless nature of the internet makes institutional development a great challenge. Combining new technology with social and institutional innovation could mean a radical rethink of the way companies, and governments deal with their wider responsibilities. The trick is to address challenges now, before they become a burden to the existing way of doing things.

Castells Manuel (2001)-The Internet Galaxy; Reflections on the internet, business and society. Oxford University press, pp 1, 3, 6, 177, 180

Wilsdon J., and Miller P. (2001) Digital futures: living in a network world, edited by James Wilsdon, pg 66

Anetta Tousheva (2003), State Agency for Child Protection (SACP), Sofia, Bulgaria, speech given at South Eastern Conference on Cyber Security Co-operation (accessed 17/03/07)

Erica B. Russell (2003), U.S. Department of State report (accessed 17/03/07) accessed 27/03/07 (accessed 17/03/07) (accessed 16/07/03) (accessed 20/03/07)

Globalization is a trend which hurts the poor and benefits the rich.

The mention of ‘globalization’ evokes thoughts of a centralized world communication system that facilitates almost instantaneous transactions or negotiations in trade, goods and or services across national borders with just the push of a button on a computer keyboard. The details of such transactions or negotiations are manifest, for example, in the establishment of beverage, clothes, and foods shop chains among others worldwide. These subsidiaries would have originated from a mother company which was thought and set up in one country and subsequently expanded to other host countries. The rationale is usually the pursuit of varying markets identified in terms of (a cheap) work force, (high spending) consumers or demand, (abundant and cheap) raw material, favorable tax regimes (to lessen production/operation cost etc), or just to satisfy an entity’s whims of being described a ‘global’ brand whether or not that is cost effective.

Increasingly, the growth of this phenomenon is a catalyst in the modern world’s evolution into a global village, where the scenarios painted above are a more common feature. This is especially so as, for obvious beneficial reasons, the developed world and her transnational corporations continue to invest heavily in the development and upgrade of required technical support systems to drive and meet new challenges to globalization. The phenomenon is not restricted to just trade and commerce, or directly related sectors. As noted by Mauro F. Gullen in the Annual Review of Sociology (Vol.27, 2001), the term is also linked to cross-border advocacy networks and organizations defending human rights, the environment, women’s rights or world peace. It also extends, and very importantly, to governance, where the Western world is persuading its partners, the developing world and especially recipient countries of donor aid and grants to accept democratic forms of governance. The argument is that democracy ensures freedoms that allow the development of people and their nations, endears citizens to work to develop themselves and the nation state and generally promotes individual human rights and economic growth. The democratic system of governance is steadily gaining root and becoming the acceptable global system being subscribed to by many governments.

Globalization, while not without benefits, is generally making the world a more miserable place. This is evidenced in the destabilizing of local economies, the exploitation of workers and the undermining of developing country governments.

This blog discusses the growing disparity between the poor and the rich due to globalization. The poor will be defined in two categories; first, impoverished developing countries and; second, the impoverished majority in developed countries.

Globalization has been defined and refined by many scholars. Scholte (2001:338) defines globalization as the processes by which social relations acquire reasonably distance-less and borderless qualities, so that human lives are all the time more played out in the world as a single place. Tiplady argues similarly with a perspective on globalization by quoting a definition coined by Roland Robertson(1992) as a “concept that refers to both the compression of the world and intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole… both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole” from where Tiplady asserts that globalization is a way of “increasing global interconnectedness, increasing global consciousness [with the environment making it] one interconnected world” (Tiplady:2003:pp.2-5). Sociologist Anthony Giddens (1990:64; 1991:21) proposes to regard globalization as a decoupling or “distanciation” between space and time, while geographer David Harvey (1989) and political scientist James Mittelman (1996) observe that globalization entails a “compression” of space and time, a shrinking of the world.

Another scholarly view worth considering is Frank Webster’s who says globalization signals the growing interdependence and interpenetration of human relations alongside the increasing integration of the world’s socio-economic life (Webster 2002:68). According to him, there is a tendency to conceive of globalization as primarily an economic affair, manifest in the tying together of markets, currencies and corporate organizations. He asserts that indeed that will be the manifestation of globalization however it is simultaneously a social, cultural and political condition evident in, for example, an explosive growth of migration, of tourist activity, hybrid musical forms and heightened concern for global political strategies to meet threats and challenges to survival.

To many, globalization is positive. Many cities in Africa boast of Japanese, American, German, British or French manufactured vehicles. These ply streets constructed with Chinese or other expertise and American earth moving equipment. Local medium-to-large scale businesses will not operate without American or some other expatriate investment; additionally most computers in offices are imported from the US, Asia or UK and foreign nationals from around a country’s sub-region and or Europe, America or Asia (depending on the required expertise or skills set) dominate large sectors of the lucrative service industry.

The definitions proffered by the scholars highlight a common feature of globalization-the international integration of goods, technology, labour and capital. Although globalization promotes interdependence among different states, a school of thought argues that poorer countries/third world nations caught up in the phenomenon as well as the poor in developed countries are always at a disadvantage. But significantly, Artz (2003) notes, ‘globalization has redistributed resources within nations to domestic elites and internationally to transnational corporations (TNC’s)’(p.8)(La Pastina (2003:37). Burbach (cited in Artz, 2003:8) further argues that globalization increases poverty and marginalization within the first world, ‘while the third world has a large number of nouveau riche who are able to buy and sell in the global economy’. In the developed rich economies, globalization harms the interests of individual workers, especially unskilled workers, either directly through immigration or indirectly through trade and capital mobility. Changes in technology have led to a massive shift toward more-skilled workers to the disadvantage of less skilled ones. Indeed the beneficiaries of globalization in advanced economies have been nation states as there is evidence that free trade and the mobility of labour and capital tend to improve national and big business welfare more than individual well being.

Scores of workers in the developed economies lose their jobs over increasing demands for highly skilled labour resulting in a remuneration wedge between both labour categories. Castells refers to the unskilled either in rich or poor nations as the ‘fourth world’ who have no part to play in the globalized world because they lack resources of capital and/or skills that might make them appeal to globalized capitalism (Webster 2002: pp.112-113). He writes about the urban poor in the United States, those mired in the underclass living cheek by jowl alongside the informational labour that is so central to the new world system, and often working in unenviable circumstances as waiters, nannies, janitors and servants of this new class. Webster acknowledges Castells’ view of a fear that generic labour may, in the longer term, sink into this underclass if its members cannot come to terms with the flexible demands of the new economy.

La Pastina (2003:37-38) argues for example that globalization in Brazil is associated mainly with sophisticated images seen in the media…seen by a small percentage of the elite local population which has can afford cable and satellite television, consuming shows that are hits in the United States along with global elites around the world. The majority of the population however remains glued to the open access channels that are still dominated by Globo Network (a family held conglomerate with wide associations with US media industries), which has maintained hegemony over the Brazilian television market for almost four decades (Amaral and Guimaraes, 1994; Straubhaar and La Pastina 2003). The argument is further made that globalization refers to the idea that people know more about George W. Bush than they would know about local and regional politics. Therefore the concept for many becomes a sign of displacement and isolation, a condition of peripheral existence.

In contrast to previous scholars whose views draw on the benefits of the merger of time and distance to capitalism (Robertson 1992, Mittelman 1996, Artz 2003), La Pastina reaches a more cogent conclusion after reviewing the effect of globalization in the South American state, ‘Globalization for the majority of Brazil is certainly not a state of participation in global processes but rather a passive stance of observing the world passing by (La Pastina, 2003).

As a typical example of a poor country disadvantaged by globalization, the government of Ghana, a developing West African state, since 1983, implemented economic reforms. This was aimed at reducing government’s role in the economy, liberalizing the economy and integrating it more fully into the global economy. Policies pursued included fiscal and monetary restraint, exchange rate adjustment/devaluation, and divestiture of state owned enterprises and private sector promotion . Exports grew from about $450 million in 1983 to about $2,090 million in 1998, while imports increased from about $500 million in 1983 to about $2, 900 in 1998. However, Ghana failed to generate projected volumes of foreign investment regardless of vigorous efforts to promote the country as an attractive location for investment. In terms of the reforms’ impact on increased integration into the world economy, figures of the Ghana Statistical Service show that employment rose steadily over three years (from 280,000 in 1982 to 464,000 in 1985) and then began to drop to 186, 000 in 1991- in both public and private sectors. It is difficult to track subsequent statistics because figures on recorded employment of the Ghana Statistical Service terminate in 1991 .

Analysts explain that the initial increase in recorded employment was largely due to the greater availability of imported raw materials brought about by the easing of foreign exchange constraints, and the lifting of restrictions on imports. A major factor that then led to the subsequent decline in employment was the increased competition from imported goods, and the inability of some manufacturers to compete against the huge cheap influx. Electrical equipment, textiles, clothing and leather goods were particularly hard hit by the very strong competition from imports.

It is important to note that real wages have declined since 1991. A survey of manufacturing firms over 1992-94 under a Regional Programme on Enterprise Development showed that real wages declined by 9 per cent over the survey period. It also revealed a widening gap between low-paid and higher paid jobs. For example, while real wages of management personnel (mostly expatriate) had increased by 30 percent and the real wages of sales personnel had increased by 46 per cent, the real wages of production workers and apprentices had declined by 13 per cent and 56 per cent respectively. As reiterated by Anyemedu (2000) in Ghana Trade Union’s responses to globalization the widening in the wage differential is a result of policy to integrate into the globalized economy, (as well as demand and supply factors).

As surmised by Anyemedu (2000), globalization has altered the balance of power between capital and labour decisively to the disadvantage of labour. The free movement of capital across national boundaries and the intense competition between countries for foreign investment mean that investors’/shareholders’ interest are given priority over workers’ interests. Supporters of free capital mobility argue that increased inflow of capital produces productivity gains that generate competitive jobs and higher wages. In sub-Saharan Africa, efforts to attract foreign investment have not achieved much success due, in part, to non-economic factors. This lack of success compels some countries to try even harder at such policies as wage restraint, further trade liberalization, labour retrenchment, etc. These for the time being appear to keep the developing continent’s majority who belong to the impoverished unskilled working class at a great disadvantage.

On the other hand the transnational corporations (TNC’s), all originating from developed countries, are benefiting from globalization as evidenced in Webster (2003:69). When the wealth of nations and corporations is measured TNC’s account for half of the largest one hundred units. In financial terms only a couple of dozen countries are bigger than the largest TNC. Notably, General Motors (2000 revenues $185 billion), IBM ($88 billion), Shell ($190 billion) and General Electric ($130 billion) are ‘the dominant forces in the world economy’ (Dicken1992: 42) and TNC’s account for as much as 25 per cent of the total world production and the vast majority of world trade (Held et al. 1999: 82). Furthermore, Dicken (1992) identifies a ‘billion dollar club’ of just six hundred TNC’s which supply over 20 per cent of total industrial and agricultural production in the world’s market economies, yet within these giants ‘a mere seventy-four TNC’s accounted for fifty per cent of the total sales’.

In asserting that globalization is neither good nor bad, Stiglitz (2002:20) concedes that in much of the world it has not brought comparable benefits except for countries of East Asia. Their success story, according to Stiglitz, is because they embraced globalization under their own terms, at their own pace. For many though, globalization seems closer to an unmitigated disaster.

It is true globalization provides jobs for locals; however local labour is being exploited through wages best described as cut throat rates. In 2005, the world damned two internationally successful brands Nike and Gap over cases of child labour and poor working conditions in Cambodia. They may have pulled out or quit the practice in order to satisfy world conventions on labour but how many more unknowns, whether or not under-aged, of the world’s poor are voluntarily laboring just to feed, clothe and/or educate themselves while the transnational corporations enjoy the fruit of their labour?

In as far the phenomenon of globalization is largely driven by the elite few of the world’s economy and the rest of the world and its peoples (through no decision of theirs) remain passive consumers/partakers of the phenomenon, it is only too clear that the growing gap between the poor and the rich will increase as the world’s majority continue to live with less than a dollar a day.

Anyemedu K. 2000. Trade Union Responses to Globalization: Case Study on Ghana. International Institute for Labour Studies Geneva

Artz L. 2003. ‘Globalization, Media, Hegemony and Social Class’ in L. Artz and Y. Kamalipour (eds) Globalization of Corporate Media Hegemony, pp. 3-31. Albany, NY: SUNY Press

Giddens A. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Standford, CA: Stanford University Press

Guillen F. Mauro 2001. Is Globalization Civilizing, Destructive or Feeble? A Critique of Five Key Debates in the Social-Science Literature. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol 27. June 2000 Version.

Harvey D. 1989. The Condition of Post Modernity. Oxford: Blackwell

La Pastina A. 2003. Up the Amazon without a paddle: developing nations and globalization. Global Media and Communications 2005; 1;36

Mittelman JH, ed 1996. Globalization: Critical Reflections. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers

Slaughter M and Swagel P. 1997. Does globalization lower wages and export jobs?

Stiglitz J 2002. Globalization and its discontents. Allen Lane, the Penguin Press

Tiplady, R. 2003. ‘World of Difference: Global Mission at the pic’ n’ mix counter’ pp. 2-5.

Webster, F. ed 2002 ‘Theories of the Information Society. London: Routledge