The Just Net Coalition, of which the present writer is a personal member,
maintains a general discussion forum in the form of a mailing list. Of key
concern there are the issues pertaining to the governance of the internet.
Below, I copy some notes that I recently posted in the said forum.
How to end the illegal surveillance without getting rid of those states
within the states: the national and imperial 'security' industries and
complexes of our Atomic Age? What a formidable task, especially after
However, ”...closer examination will always
show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its
solution are already present or at least in the course of formation,” as a
famous social scientist of an earlier period has constated. Foremost among
those material conditions today are the peoples of the (digitally) connected
world, and the Internet itself, which is, in a word, incompatible with that
system of states within the states.
In order to convince oneself of this incompatibility one hardly needs to do
more than open and read ”The WikiLeaks Files”, recently published by Verso
Books and WikiLeaks together. (Available as an DRM-free e-book here.) What this
anthology of analysis of the global US Empire, based on its leaked diplomatic
cables, and introduced by Julian Assange, underlines, is that the current
political leaders are losing grip; that however hard they try, they cannot
control the 'intelligence', because the internet gives it away. This makes the
crisis of hegemony.
Unfounded optimism? Maybe, but who said that the crisis will end happy and
well? The crisis of hegemony is the crisis of leadership. The old leadership,
the leadership of the bankers, corporations and traditional intellectuals, who
gather at their yearly World Economic Forums at Davos, Switzerland, is waning
and dying, but the new leadership has not yet been born. Unfortunately, the
interregnum, in which we presently live, is all the more dangerous because of
the destructive capacity of the human species: its new and enhanced scientific
and technical capacity to destroy the conditions of living on this planet.
Until ca 1945, only Gods where supposed to be able to do that; by now everybody
knows that we have the potential—-and are even likely--to turn ourselves into
the destroyers of this world.
There is also the Totalitarian danger of ending up in a situation ”worse
than Orwell”--but if we really were there (as UN special rapporteur on privacy
would have it ), then how to explain the above-mentioned WikiLeaks Files,
the activities of the World Social Forum, and even the persistence of
institutions like the United Nations including its special rapporteur on
If we already lived in the kind of world that George Orwell warned about
back in 1948, would there still be public libraries and librarians? Would not
all those reminders of what has been, and what has been thought possible,
already have been closed? The journalistic media and their personnel is one
thing; they can evidently be, and they actually are, grossly manipulated,
mostly in the name of 'national security', or 'economic growth'. But it would
be more difficult to suffocate what Arthur Schopenhauer called ”the only
reliable memory of mankind”, that is, the libraries. Not even the most
Draconian totalitarianism could survive without access to the collected and
organized external memory, which is just another way to say 'library'.
Here, the Internet again announces its presence, because henceforward, the
library and the digital network of networks are inseparable entities, one and
the same, if you like. Yet another way to put it is this: the new information
technology, the Internet, is an extention of the old information technology,
the library. Agreed, that this way of putting it might over-emphasize the
importance of the memory at the expense of the communication. In perspective,
however, that emphasis seems justified, because the library also performs the
more fundamental function of communication (transmission) of the memory over
time (the 'translatio studii et imperii').
To fulfil, then, the "ending of the illegal surveillance", we need to give
the libraries and the librarians a bigger role in our thinking and our
discussions. The librarians are a very special category of people; they deliver
their services somewhere in between the states and the civil societies, and the
present general crisis of hegemony hits them as hard as anybody else, but their
professional ethic is intact and ready for the inevitable transformation of
state power and government (the ”governance”). Thus Google or Amazon cannot
become our libraries for the simple reason that they are just corporations,
what libraries are not. The library has by necessity to try to be more than a
corporate entity. A corporative, and even a national library is by definition a
very bad and unreliable library, if it does not strive towards universality,
that is, towards providing all information to everybody as fast as possible.
Therefore, the direction of the US Library of Congress
drew great shame upon itself when it ”decided to block WikiLeaks because
applicable law obligates federal agencies to protect classified information.”.
At that point, the direction of the Congress ought to have had the courage to
make its own interpretation of the applicable law, based on the first amendment
to the Montesquieuan constitution of the USA.
Despite the lack in political clout that some librarians have shown, the
solution I should like to suggest would be to let the Internet be governed by
the librarians--to the extent that the net needs to be ”governed” at all.
Keeping the catalog of IP-numbers and assigned names, in particular, looks like
a typical task for librarians.
Finally, a word about national sovereignty. In my comment on Jean-Christophe
Nothias' posting about the ending of the surveillance I did not want to give
the impression that I support abolishing national sovereignty as such.
Parminder wrote about ”people's soverignty” , which I am also for. What I
belive has come to its historical end is the notion that nation-states have, or
should have, absolute soverignty. For instance, no state, and no
people either, for that matter, ought to build, have and ”modernize” weapons of
mass destruction such as atomic bombs, or other WMD (nanotech, genetech,
robotic, etc) that are probably already ”developed” by those who more or less
clandestinely do such things in their laboratories and factories. No ”sovereign
people” should tolerate such criminal activities.
I am not adverse to international law. Nor do I wish to limit the way
citizens can create global rules. I will insist, however, on the need for a
revolution of the existing political world system. International laws to end
the illegal surveillance (the topic of our discussion thread) and abolish the
weapons systems of the militant states can only come in parallel with, and
upon, that revolution.
I should like to illustrate my view with a comment on what has been said (in
the JNC forum and elesewhere) about the European Union and our right
(introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon,) as European citizens, to launch European
It is good that citizens now have the possibility to launch initiatives.
Unfortunately, however, the range of such initiatives is all too narrow. Would
European Nuclear Disarmament be accepted as a citizens initiative? No, that
initiative cannot even be seriously discussed, because the European rules
(European law) rule it out from the outset. The rather shaky union we Europeans
have hitherto achieved permits certain states to keep and modernize their
national nuclear arms in the name of their sovereignty. These states (France
and the UK) have also made a separate treaty (the Teutates Treaty) on
cooperation to further develop their nuclear arsenals together in common. It
will ony expire after nearly fifty years, in 2060! I bet that most of us
Europeans have not even heard of that treaty. It is certainly not
The original federalistic project by Altiero Spinelli and others, as laid
down in their Manifesto from Ventotene (1941) was really good, and needs to be
revived; but soon (from 1958 onward) the transatlantic bankers and corporations
managed to hijack it and have continued to this day to steer it in accordance
with their interests. If you, Jean-Christophe, would ask me for a governace
model for the EU, then I would point you to the draft constitution adopted by a
great majority of the European Parlament in the year 1984 (you can find the
text in French and in English here. ). Of course, its provisions on
the policies of the Union (Part Four) already need some rewriting;
understandably, nothing is found on the Internet, for instance. However, in
comparison with the Lisbon Treaty, it is an admirably clear and succinct
(draft) basic international law that should even deserve to be called popular
and democratic. But what are the prospects today of having such a law adopted?
It could only succeed in combination with some kind of political revolution, I
guess. Or maybe something like the American Declaration of Independence in
It is ”we, the peoples” who must set the agenda and put a priority order. In
my life-time I have experienced at least one civic movement which actually
succeeded in forcing some of the state governments to turn their coats after
the wind, namely, the European Nuclear Disarmament movement of the 1980ies. The
more recent fight against the ACTA agreement was also quite successful.