FAQ: What Happened at the Internet Governance Forum?

On November 15, at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt), OpenNet Initiative (ONI) partners were set to hold a reception for the as-yet-unreleased volume Access Controlled, in a room which ONI had been given permission to use for the event. As the reception was about to start, UN security officials requested that ONI remove their poster. These are questions we have compiled from ONI partners (including staff, principal investigators, and ONI Asia researchers) who were in attendance.

1. What was the purpose of the event?

The OpenNet Initiative will release a new book entitled Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power Rights and Rule in Cyberspace in early 2010. The book follows our previous volume, Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering, and focuses on Internet filtering and surveillance policies around the globe.

2. Why did officials ask ONI to remove the poster?

ONI representatives were told that the banner had to be removed because of the reference to China. This was repeated on several occasions, in front of about two dozen witnesses and officials, including the UN Special Rapporteur For Human Rights, who asked that we send in a formal letter of

3. Did UN officials throw the poster on the ground?

No. UN officials asked ONI to remove the poster. An ONI staff member placed it on the ground for consideration by the ONI team (the discussion is shown here on video captured of the incident). When ONI refused to remove the poster, security guards bundled it and took it away. The poster was later retrieved by ONI staff.

4. What about the invite?

Earlier, the same officials asked us to stop circulating a small invite to the event because it contained a mention of Tibet (which was in reference to a film about censorship around the world). They even underlined it in showing it to ONI Principal Investigator Ron Deibert. Because the event was just about to start, he told them that ONI would not be distributing any more of these invitations so it was a moot point. ONI was allowed to show film clips.

5. Did ONI ask for clarification of the rules?

ONI partners asked repeatedly to see any rules or regulations governing this act. They did not give us any, only referring to the "objections of a member state."

6. The UN has stated (in an AP article) that there is a "no poster" policy at the event. What is ONI's response?

According to ONI partners who attended the IGF, there were in fact many posters and banners in many of the rooms at the IGF, including posters in other ONI events. The video itself shows ONI partners, at one point, attempting to cover the offending banner with another banner. Officials objected to that action, insisted that the banner referencing China must be removed, but did nothing about the other banner. The other banner was left standing in the room.

(Update: An attendee has sent this link, showing another event with a large banner displayed.)

7. What was the full text of the poster?

The section of the poster in question read:

"Internet censorship and surveillance are increasing in democratic countries as well as in authoritarian states. The first generation of controls, typified by China's "Great Firewall," are being replaced by more sophisticated techniques that go beyond mere denial of information and aim to normalize (or even legalize) a climate of control. These next generation techniques include strategically timed distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, targeted malware, surveillance at key points of the Internet's infrastructure, take-down notices, and stringent terms of usage policies. Their aim is to shape and limit the national information environment. Access Controlled reports on these new trends in information control and their implications for the global Internet commons."

The rest of the poster contained informational text about authorship of the book. A high-resolution copy is available for press use (please contact jyork@cyber.law.harvard.edu)

8. Does the OpenNet Initiative receive royalties for its publications?

No, the OpenNet Initiative's researchers and employees do not receive royalties for publications.

9. What are the press and bloggers saying?

There have been a number of articles on the subject, and several bloggers have weighed in. Here is what the press is saying:

Rebecca MacKinnon, RConversation, "Muzzled by the United Nations"

Associated Press, "UN demands removal of China poster at Net event"

BBC News, "UN slated for stifling Net debate"

CNSNews.com, United Nations Accused of Censoring Criticism of China at Internet Event

Inner City Press, UN's Velvet Glove Censorship of Poster on Great Firewall of China, "Folded, Undamaged"

NetworkWorld, "IGF 2009 event rattled by UN security office"

The Inquirer, "Anti-Internet censorship conference is censored"

BoingBoing, "UN goons destroy academic poster describing China's firewall"

Global Voices Advocacy, "IGF2009: #UNfail?"

Good Morning Silicon Valley, "With Net comments, Obama sends an instant message to China"

David Weinberger, Joho the Blog, "UN’s Internet Governance Forum censors a mild mention of censorship"

V3.co.uk, "Internet Governance Forum hit by censorship claims"

In the Line of Wire, "Censorship at IGF in Sharm El Sheikh"

OpenNet Initiative Principal Investigator Ron Deibert has also blogged about the incident here.