Confederation of European Computer User Associations
|Confédération Européenne des Associations d'Utilisateurs des Technologies de I'Information|
by Stuart Goold CECUA Secretary General
CECUA was set up over 30 years ago with the encouragement of the European Commission to unite national Computer User Associations from all member states of the European Union and the Council of Europe. In those early days, CECUA focused mainly on computer standards and contractual issues, but with widespread introduction of personal computers and the Internet, CECUA realised that all citizens were becoming "computer users" and that CECUA needed to reflect this development. I have been associated with CECUA for over 25 years and have been President and now Secretary general for many years.
Accordingly, CECUA formed an ICT Partnership with CEPIS, Eurochambres, YES, MIDEPH, EUIF in conjunction with ISPO of the European Commission, to run the highly acclaimed conference "The Citizen and the Global Information Society" in the Spring of 1998 in Brussels.
This Conference examined the fears, concerns and hopes of citizens in the global information society and as a result produced a draft "Bill of Rights" for European Citizens which set out many issues which needed to be addressed to create a safe and trustworthy area for European Citizens to work and play. The term "citizen" here includes individuals and corporate citizens as well as governments, commercial interests etc.
The draft "Bill of Rights was widely publicised in order to stimulate debate and to encourage major European players to co-operate and work together to create a safe Internet Environment.
The main provisions can be divided into three main areas:
Cultural Issues (the right to use ones own alphabet, to use ones own name)
Even though these issues were raised nearly six years ago, there has been very little progress. In fact the situation is much worse now. The Internet is like the "wild west". It is an international playground for criminals, fraudsters, hackers and all those who wish to disrupt society or dishonestly gain from international activity.
What does this do to consumer confidence? Well, a lot. In fact spamming and unwanted and inaccurate information has eroded confidence in e-mail to such an extent that some eminent academic users are now refusing to use the Internet. This could lead to the stagnation of the Internet, a bad situation for the users and also for the telecom and computer industry.
National justice departments are not taking the situation seriously and giving very light sentences to young criminals who have caused damage estimated at times in millions if not billions of euros.
The Internet is controlled by a private USA company registered in California responsible for technical administration.
Where do we go next? Well the difficulty with the Internet is that if some usage is illegal in one country, then the perpetrators move to another country. Legislators need to recognise that the Internet is a truly International phenomenon and this means that it needs to be controlled Internationally. National legislation CANNOT prevent foreign citizens destroying the rights and expectations of its own citizens - which it generally has been elected to protect.
CECUA believes that the first step is to get the main "players" together in order to recognise the problems and to start to provide and promote solutions. No one group of players can do this on its own. The issues are too complex and the trouble with the Internet is that it involves all citizens, all businesses, all governments - in fact everybody. It impinges on the way we work and play. It impinges on all aspects of our culture.
What has happened so far? Recently there have been two important developments.
On February 12th this year a very important Paris conference entitled "Identity, trust and confidence, security in a digital world" chaired by your Chairperson, Erica Mann attracted a high level international audience to discuss the major issues affecting user confidence. Organised by G9+, CECUA, Eurolinc, ISOC-France in partnership with Afnic, Medef and Cigref the main purpose of this conference was to take the first step towards forming a European Forum to represent European interests in Internet governance taking into account the needs of the citizen.
That conference also prepared the ground for CECUA Vice president's Alain Moscowitz's contribution to the Rome GAC meeting this month. A major user issue at this event was user representation on the ICANN (the body responsible for the allocation of domain names - a Californian company) ALAC (at large advisory committee). Currently ICANN is seeking to restrict membership of ALAC to individuals whereas CECUA and ISOC wish to have user organisations involved so that European citizens have more say in the running of the Internet.
As for the future, another very important conference is being planned on 1st July in Paris under the auspices of ISOC France and partners, which include CIGREF and CECUA. The Conference will focus on domain name allocation and control, which also raises many issues of user concern.
And finally, CECUA with its partners have drawn the attention of the European community to the many user issues raised by the global nature of the Internet, and has proposed the formation of a forum of a wide range of players in Europe. This essential and very urgent step is required to start to tame the Internet in order to create a safe, useful and usable Internet, which the citizens of Europe can use with confidence.
One thing is for sure, the experiment of having a private USA company administer the Internet has completely failed to tame the unlawful use of the Internet. It has completely failed to come up with any ideas as to how the Internet should be controlled. And does it even have the will to control it. This is a global issue and the involvement of others is needed. I believe that we in Europe can take a lead in creating a safe and secure Internet in which all users - corporate and non-corporate feel safe and secure.
Stuart Goold, March 2004