Jun 052011
Signature of Nicolas Sarcozy

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There’s been a lot of talk about the e-G8 Conference this week, which was an attempt to bring together technology and internet leaders with government officials. The idea, apparently, was for government officials to convince the digerati that it was time for government to take a much more active role in regulating the internet. The initial reports suggest that the tech folks weren’t buying what Nicolas Sarkozy and other government officials were selling — with some putting out scathing reports about any company willing to help the government clamp down on free speech online.

We’re seeing more and more stories of government attempts to exert greater control over the internet. While governments have been seeking such control for quite some time, we’re finally seeing some real movement here, and I have no doubt that the pace and intensity of such efforts is only going to increase. The results of the e-G8 are not at all surprising. The politicians approached it as politicians do: looking to plead their case and create an atmosphere of political trade-offs, but many of the digerati tend not to work that way (which is why they tend to avoid policy and political debates altogether). They’re not interested in tradeoffs, and that leads to a pretty serious culture clash, which is what we’re seeing.

That’s why this is going to get worse before it gets better. Governments are going to increase these kinds of efforts, and they’re going to have significant legislative successes. There are two reasons for that. First, most elected officials don’t really understand technology, and don’t recognize the impact and the unintended consequences of what they’re doing. They think that they’re attacking “problems” online, or “bringing order” where there was chaos. They’re not. Second, many large legacy companies, who are past their innovation stages, are equally frightened of the disruptions the internet has created. These are also the firms with the biggest lobbying budgets and most connections within the government. So they see this as an opportunity not to bring order to chaos (even if they claim such), but to stifle innovation and competition that might challenge their market position.

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