November 30, 2020

Chaos of Internet Will Meet French Sense of Order at Digital Summit

PARIS — The Tuileries Garden in Paris, a celebration of grand geometric vistas and tightly trimmed topiary, will be invaded next week by the denizens of a decidedly more chaotic space: the Internet.

The first-of-its-kind event is being convened by President Nicolas Sarkozy to put the Internet firmly on the agenda of the Group of 8 countries, who meet next week in France. But an alternate view is that the president wants to push his often-invoked vision of a “civilized Internet” — one that is safer for children, more favorable to copyright owners and more lucrative for the French treasury.

The get-together comes as the Internet takes a central role in powering economic growth and empowering societies, as revolutions in the Arab world have shown. At the same time, digital piracy in the West and censorship in China continue to vex policy makers, prompting calls for greater coordination of Internet strategies.

“The Internet is demolishing barriers, but we are still far from realizing the full benefit of what it can do for our world,” said Maurice Lévy, chief executive of the advertising company Publicis Groupe, who has served as Mr. Sarkozy’s point man in organizing the conference.

The event will also allow Mr. Sarkozy a chance to portray France, which sometimes seems ambivalent about the rise of the Internet, as a progressive, technologically savvy country.

And, less than a year before presidential elections, it will allow him to bask in the spotlight with the leaders of a dynamic industry, as the man who had loomed as his biggest rival, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, faces sexual assault charges in New York.

But the more conspiratorially minded French are concerned about Mr. Sarkozy’s intentions. The backdrop of the Tuileries, a physical reflection of the French penchant for imposing order on nature, provides a handy visual metaphor for these critics.

“In spite of a harmless sounding rhetoric, the E-G8 Forum is a smokescreen to cover control of governments over the Internet,” wrote Jérémie Zimmermann, a spokesman for La Quadrature du Net, a group that campaigns against restrictions on the Internet.

Mr. Lévy called this view nonsense, saying that the goal was to generate debate rather than to push the French agenda. While Mr. Sarkozy commissioned the event, the cost will be covered entirely by Publicis and other sponsors from the private sector, rather than the French government. Mr. Lévy said no one should hesitate to challenge Mr. Sarkozy, who is set to give the opening address.

“He will invite people to share their thoughts, to speak loud and clear,” Mr. Lévy said. “He will recognize that the Internet is a common good for the world. At the same time he will say there are still a few issues on which we need your thoughts — net neutrality, privacy, intellectual property protection, et cetera, et cetera.”

The 800 luminaries will gather under a giant tent in the Tuileries Gardens for panel discussions on these and other issues, networking opportunities and a gala dinner in the nearby Louvre. Confirmed attendees include Eric E. Schmidt of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp.

Most of the events will be streamed live on the Web. But not all of them: About a dozen V.I.P.’s will be invited to the Élysée Palace for a private lunch with Mr. Sarkozy.

At the end of the two-day meeting, a small delegation of participants will travel to Deauville, France, to present conclusions to the heads of state assembled there.

“It will be up to them to decide what to do with it,” Mr. Lévy said. “They can decide it is useless, or they can decide it is interesting.”

If all this sounds a bit like a digital Davos, minus the snow, that may not be a coincidence; Publicis also organizes the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps.

Does the world need another talking shop? Participants of the E-G8 say they welcome the chance to discuss digital policy issues at a global level. There is growing concern about a possible splintering of the Internet along national lines, with different countries adopting different policies on issues like censorship, privacy, copyright enforcement and network access.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8ea4e9fe8cd3f7ee42cc7ac7a51d23ab

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