LE MONDE ÉCONOMIE, e-G8 : the new upcoming world, a spitting image of the old one, June 6th 2011

“Without the networks, Internet is nothing … Internet is not just a question of liberties, it is a question of money.”

When Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange, one of the main sponsors of the e-G8, held in Paris on 24 and 25 May, uttered these unambiguous words, everybody in France seemed to be relieved: the debate about civil liberties on the Internet – which Bernard Kouchner wanted to make the central topic of this e-G8 – was put off until later, while the inexorable course of its commodification has been going on unhindered.

Lawrence Lessig, a Law professor at Harvard, was one of the few members of civil society who were invited to this event, quipped about the e-G8’s underlying philosophy: “I have only vague memories about philosophy, he said, but I cannot imagine a French philosopher saying: “Let’s ask the business world to define the state policy”, and he added sadly: “We recently gave it a try in the United States in matters of finance, and we cannot say it’s been an unqualified success.”

A wall of silence fell on the Internet at this county fair that was e-G8. Its first component is that of commodification. The second one, according to the final report of the e-G8, which was being circulated – as usual – before the festivities began, is the maintenance of law and order, which is already unscrambled or implicitly readable in some national/local laws, and particularly in France, in LOPPSI and HADOPI 2 Acts/Laws.

Of course, none of these pretexts is lacking of ethical rationale and they justify with equanimity global monitoring: the fight against terrorism and child protection, as if they were in themselves the justification for the establishment of a widespread system of spying on citizens by their own governments.

John Perry Barlow, one of the founders in 1990 of the EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American union of Internet users, was one of a few personalities in the e-G8 who defended the values that don’t immediately translate into a price. He mentioned another justification for the proposed repressive apparatus: the intellectual property, which he rightly characterized as a concept distinct from “copyright”: like a patent issued by a company upon the ideas of someone who finally will only reap a few crumbs out of the harvested amount.

There is something common between these various projects of constraining the internet with legal shackles aiming at maintaining the commercial order of substantial profit margins and the more prosaic police order: the fear of what the Internet symbolizes by now. Its abilities on the one hand for establishing gratuity and the gift as the basis of social relationship by default, and on the other hand, for sweeping away in a few weeks, political regimes where, as e-G8 underlined, the state has been legally or illegally ruled by the business world.

The Internet community is fortunately not defenseless facing such diktats, at least those who are not impressed by such a program. John Gilmore, another founder of the EEF, has the last word as he one time had the opportunity to state: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

(translation by Bénédicte Kibler)