auIGF 2015: James goes to the red planet

Part of our work at InternetNZ is to link up local Internet issues with what’s happening overseas. This month, my own small part of that was to cross the ditch and join our Aussie cousins at auIGF 2015. Like the New Zealand Internet community’s NetHui event, the auIGF is meant to be a forum for a wide range of interested people to share ideas and discuss Internet policy. This year’s theme was “how the Internet is transforming Australian society”.

So, my first overseas work trip to a land baked red, where scientists have recently found signs of water. Or was that a movie I saw?

Anyway.

The most awesome things

Overall, my fellow attendees were the best element of auIGF. It was great to catch up with, and hear from the wide range of people there. That included other policy folks, but also people from charities, a woman who runs a local community website, a video games academic (coolest geekiest job). Security folks helped me get paranoid, and one of the locals claimed his father had got chewing gum banned in Singapore.

Among the formal sessions, discussions on “gender and the Internet” and “Internet and Indigenous communities” were highlights for me, with panellists drawing on their diverse roles and experiences to kick off useful discussion. The Internet has provided awesome opportunities, but in Australia as here, some people are left out. These sessions are a great way to share ideas for including more people in the benefits we might take for granted.

My personal favourite session was on policy stuff: specifically, how do find, share, and use good ideas? People like me work for charities, governments, businesses, or universities thinking hard about how to understand the world and maybe make it better. But as organisations and websites change, lots of this information gets lost. This was the most interactive session, thanks to an audience member who was inspired to move the mic around everyone who wanted to talk. It worked, and felt like a little slice of NetHui in Australia. Choice, bro!

The least awesome things

The worst thing was in the background of the auIGF. Australia’s new data retention law came into effect on Monday, requiring ISPs to store data about their customers’ texts, calls, and emails for two years. That’s a loss for privacy, and a big cost for those ISPs. Worse, it creates pools of data that will be tempting targets for hacking or unauthorised use.

At the event itself, the “online behaviour” discussion set me up for disappointment. The session title was great: “does the digital world licence us to behave differently?”. Surely a wide-ranging discussion of online ethical issues! Nope, the session was about copyright.

Still, that’s a good debate - how do we balance incentives to make cool stuff with people’s expectation that they can access and use content, like when we make meme images? No, that wasn’t talked about either.

Instead, panel members talked about people’s downloading and purchasing behaviour, labelling several types of “pirates”. That was a bit sad, because sticking a negative label on people like that makes it harder to engage with them. Bit silly if you want to change their behaviour, right? In the very limited discussion time, audience members suggested that the “pirate” term wasn’t helping. Panellists seemed unmoved. Really sad that a forum for engaging different viewpoints got hung up on a controversial word choice - this set up a situation where it was really hard for anyone to listen, learn, and engage constructively.

Anyway, through the magic of the Internet, your humble correspondent learnt that the Australian Crimes Act 1914 defines “act of piracy” as violent action directed against a ship, aircraft, persons, or property. For future reference, a pirate probably looks like this:

Astronaut and possible space pirate Mark Watney

Nonetheless, I’m glad I crossed the Tasman for the auIGF. Would go again.

Postscript:

Our team’s next big international event is the international IGF, run by the UN, to be held in Brazil next month. My colleagues Ben and Ellen will be there to represent the NZ Internet community. For the rest of us, InternetNZ is going to livestream a couple of sessions, to coincide with breakfast in NZ. If you’re interested, come along!

Click here to RSVP

Sessions are:

“The Politics of Encryption”

Wed 11 November 07:30 - 10:00 (Auckland / Wellington)

“Trade Agreements and the Future of Internet Governance”

Thu 12 November 07:30 - 10:00 (Auckland / mac Wellington)