Harvard’s Berkman Center Sells Out to the Man – AGAIN

Once again, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society has sacrificed the public good for the large corporate interests which fund this so-called “academic research center.” Fed at the special interests trough by some of America’s most powerful Internet corporations such as AT&T, Google, Microsoft, and AOL, Berkman has been openly hostile to victims of online exploitation and child pornography. (See this blog’s Cyber Conflict of Interest – Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown)

Not surprisingly, Berkman is at the forefront in criticizing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s effort to impose Internet regulation through the framework of the Group of 8 industrialized countries.

Early next week, G-8 leaders will urge the adoption of measures to protect children from online predators, to strengthen privacy rights and to crack down on digital copyright piracy. This effort is fiercely opposed by some Internet companies and apparently their main academic spokesperson, the not-so-independent Berkman Center.

Before an audience that included top executives of some of the world’s largest Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon and eBay–all of whom underwrite the Berkman Center–Sarkozy explained: “The universe you represent is not a parallel universe. Nobody should forget that governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies. To forget this is to risk democratic chaos and anarchy.”

Yochai Benkler, Berkman Center’s faculty co-director, told Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of France that he thought the French approach to online copyright protection was “the wrong way to go.”

“You can make the Internet safe for Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, or you can make it safe for the next Skype or YouTube,” he said, asking her to relay that message to the G-8 leaders in Deauville.

Making the Internet “safe” for Skype or YouTube also means maintaining an unregulated and perversely open Internet where child molesters thrive and child sex abuse images–and increasingly movies–are widely available with little impunity for the perpetrators and consumers of such material. ISPs are free to delete logs and records of illegal activity, Facebook and other online content providers are immune from liability for assembling limitless archives of child pornography, and cutting edge technology like Google Hello is employed to facilitate the online exploitation of children.

France has gone further than many other Western countries in pushing for what Mr. Sarkozy has called a “civilized Internet.” Among his initiatives are a so-called three-strikes law that threatens persistent digital pirates with the suspension of their Internet connections. Another new French law authorizes the government to filter out Web sites containing illegal content like child pornography.

The G-8 communiqué, which is still being finalized by the G-8 leaders’ sherpas, or policy emissaries, is not expected to contain specific prescriptions like these. Instead, it will include broad pledges to deal with privacy, piracy and child protection, the people with knowledge of the talks said.

Berkman’s presumed objection to such inherently broad and oblique international policy statements perhaps says the most about its true motives; a world in which its rich and powerful patrons can continue to act with impunity, free from regulation and the scrutiny that only democratically elected governments can provide.

Berkman, whose motto is “We seek to be an honest broker in the conversations about the future of the Internet and related technologies” is truly a gilded fox guarding a big and powerful chicken coop. Berkman underwriter Eric E. Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, echoed his apparent lackey, Berkman’s Yochai Benkler, when he argued that technology, rather than regulation, could take care of many of the challenges facing the Internet: “Before we decide there is a regulatory solution, let’s ask if there’s a technological solution,” Schmidt said. “We will move faster than any of these governments, let alone all of them together.”

Shame on you Berkman and all the esteemed academics who feed at your richly stocked table, including apparently the entire oligarchy of the Harvard Law, Business and Divinity schools listed here.

More on this issue can be found in the New York Times here.

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