- Surveillance advocates want to save the internet
The Global Commission on Internet Governance wants to foster free expression and online privacy. However, the body comprises passionate surveillance advocates. E-mails leaked to the German magazine Cicero Online even show: the Swedish government, which chairs the commission, has been denying representatives of the whistleblower project Wikileaks access to an internet freedom forum in its own country
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The aims of this worldwide internet organization actually sound pretty promising. The Snowden “revelations about the nature and extent of online surveillance have led to a loss of trust”, the Global Commission on Internet Governance states. That is why the internet governance mechanism needs an update. Furthermore, the name of the website appears like grass roots democracy: ourinternet.org.
The Global Commission on Internet Governance was founded in the wake of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2014, and was honored by the globalists and anti-surveillance activists of Brazil’s Net Mundial. Within two years, the project is to present ideas for a better future of the internet.
Among the members is also the former Editor-in-Chief of the German magazine Der Spiegel, Mathias Müller von Blumencron, who now leads the online department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Blumencron regularly reports on the NSA scandal. “We have to fight for liberty”, he stated in a recent article.
He hopes to do that in the Global Commission on Internet Governance: to save the internet. However, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who met Edward Snowden in Hong Kong and who has just published his book No Place To Hide, contests this view in a Cicero interview: the Commission would rather damage the internet.
Indeed the list of participants casts a shadow on the good intentions of this body. Among the members is David Omand, former director of the GCHQ. The British secret service entertains massive surveillance programs; last year agents forced their way into the editorial offices of The Guardian and ordered the destruction of hard drives with Snowden material.
David Omand is not a friend of whistleblowers that unmask government lies either. In 2003 he had a serious problem with U.N. weapons inspector David Kelly. He had secretly informed BBC reporters that the British government had manipulated data to justify the Iraq War intervention. Omand thus agreed that the informant should face “more forensic examination” according to a Daily Mail report. A few days later, Kelly’s body was found in a forest in which the inspection report later attested it having been ruled a suicide.
But a figure much more powerful in the Global Commission on Internet Governance is Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. He is chairing the initiative. Bildt likes to be seen as a man of the internet: he uses twitter, broadcasts online videos, etc. He triumphs over having brought freedom of expression and internet issues on the agenda of the United Nations.
Before Wednesday, his ministry organized an important Swedish web conference – the “Stockholm Internet Forum”. Bildt’s conference on “Internet Freedom for global development” embodies the motto: “Internet — privacy, transparency, surveillance and control”; yet it has come under criticism. As reported in Cicero Online, the Swedish Foreign Ministry has prevented Snowden’s invitation. The name of the whistleblower was marked red on a list of possible participants. Also some close confidants of Snowden – among them Greenwald, journalist Jacob Appelbaum or The Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger – were uninvited. The Foreign Ministry has denied any allegations that this was a political boycott or politically motivated.
However, e-mails disclosed to Cicero Online now suggest the opposite. Accordingly, already in 2012 the Scandinavian country blocked participation of the whistleblower platform Wikileaks, which works closely with Snowden and his allies. Ahead of the first Stockholm Internet Forum, members of the revelation project took efforts to receive an invitation. Since it is only the Swedish Foreign Ministry that invites participants, the activists addressed their plea twice to this agency. On 5 March 2012, an officer stated: “I regret to inform you that we are not able to invite representatives from your organisation to the Stockholm Internet Forum.” A copy of the message also went to Olof Ehrenkrona, political adviser to the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, and most important strategist behind the conference.
Wikileaks did not give up: a representative wanted to know if Bildt was personally informed about the incident. He also repeated his appeal to be able to participate in the conference. Wikileaks “has more experience with internet censorship than any other organisation and is also the boldest and most persecuted publisher”. He quoted from an Amnesty International report praising Wikileaks’s role for the freedom of expression: “Those who live with the daily abuses of power… [t]heir last hope for accountability is disclosure – however messy, embarrassing and apparently counter-productive it may be.”
Nonetheless, the government turned down the request. There would be no more space in the conference room. “Thus only selected participants could be invited”, the officer wrote. Wikileaks suggested participating remotely – i.e. via video broadcasting. However, the Ministry never replied to this offer.
A press officer confirmed to Cicero Online that the e-mails were real. But he said to be “quite confident that we have had several participants that have had close links with Wikileaks attending the SIF over the years”. Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson denies this: “As far as I can recall, members of our organization have never been invited.”
Journalist Glenn Greenwald sees a reason for that: The Swedish secret service FRA („Försvarets Radioanstalt”) has been a “very, very close partner of the NSA and works with them in a very extensive and cooperative manner”. This has been shown by the Snowden documents. “The Swedish government is certainly hostile to these revelations that we've been doing and certainly has been hostile to the revelations that Wikileaks did in 2010 and 2011.” This would be true for many governments, and already in 2010, plans of the US secret service CIA to damage Wikileaks were leaked to the platform.
Greenwald thus also sees a relationship between the Wikileaks blocade and the request of extradition against Julian Assange. The founder of the platform has been sitting in the London embassy of Ecuador for two years. In June 2012, the Australian took refuge there to escape the extradition to Sweden following allegations of sexual offences. Assange fears to be eventually turned over to the USA.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry considers this as speculation and does not comment on this. “This is purely an issue for the law enforcement authorities.” However, e-mails show that not only Assange but also his whistleblower platform are unwelcomed by the conservative government. Glenn Greenwald states: “I think that the Swedish government just in general dislikes any groups or people who challenge their ability to do things in secret.”
He also has his doubts concerning the Global Commission on Internet Governance: “Swedish officials, who have demonstrated a willingness to cooperate with the NSA to have power within a commission like that, are exactly the people I would not trust to have that.” Actually Greenwald thinks a global Internet organization could be “a very positive step” if it fights for a free internet and if it restricts U.S. dominance. But not “[…]if you start putting people on that commission who are members of governments that have demonstrated an intent to undermine internet freedom. Then the entire project becomes corrupted.”
Mathias Müller von Blumencron has a different perspective. When he was still Editor in Chief of Der Spiegel, he benefited from Wikileaks' revelations. Today he talks with those that would like to damage the whistleblower project. Blumencron knows very well that there are people in the commission “who act controversially”, he wrote to Cicero Online. “But if we refused sitting down with them on one table to discuss the frameworks of the digital future, it wouldn't help us solving these contentious issues .” Those groups had all used and shaped the internet.
“It has never been more important to think about the conditions of a free internet in diverse groups”, states Blumencron. And he insists to add: “This is no circle of security politicians, former secret service agents or conservatives.“
So far, they haven't even started yet.