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.

(Part 1)

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 September, 2001!

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 Joseph Cannataci 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 privacy himself?

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.

(Part 2)

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 citizens' initiatives.

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 democratic.

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 1776?

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.