Monday, November 5, 2012 | 9:09 AM
UPDATE: A highlight video of the Big Tent Baku is now available. Please take a look.
The Internet has been built from the bottom up. From its origins as a US Government research project, private business, public authorities, civil society, academia and 2.3 billion users have built it over the past three decades into a global information network. Today, we stand at a crossroads as more than a thousand representatives of Internet businesses, NGOs, and governments assemble in Azerbaijan at the United Nations Seventh Intergovernmental Forum.
While the Net has grown to embrace and enhance almost every human activity, more and more governments, unnerved by its revolutionary freedoms, are seeking to constrain its use. According to the Open Net Initiative, some 42 countries censor, filter or block content on the web. Google is going to Azerbaijan to stand up for freedom and openness of the Internet. At the Internet Governance Forum, all of us can make contributions. All our voices are heard. The Net's value is found in its generalized nature, its abilities to allow all shades of colour to be displayed.
Many of the same governments that restrict Net freedom in their home countries want to interfere with this success story. Some are proposing to impose a new United Nations agency to govern the Net. Others want to use the already established, Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union, as a ‘stalking horse,’ slipping dangerous provisions into a soon-to-be-negotiated telecommunications treaty.
This evening in Azerbaijan, we are hosting a Big Tent to discuss these crucial Internet governance issues. Our featured guest is Vint Cerf, famed for the role he played in developing the Net’s early technology - and his tireless support for the multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Forum.
At the Big Tent, Baku, we're going to look at this battle for freedom, first hand and up close in Azerbaijan. Our host country is going through a momentous transformation in the two decades since it won independence. It has made huge strides developing its economy. It international profile is rising fast. Yet a strong debate is now underway about freedom of speech. Some bloggers have been imprisoned. Others face restrictions on what they can say online. At the Big Tent, we will show an excerpt from a film about Internet freedom in Azerbaijan.
Under the UN's own convention, each and every one of us enjoys the right to express ourselves freely. We recognize that the limits of free speech are open for debate - different cultural norms allow different levels of expression. We ourselves do not accept certain types of content on Google platforms - for example, videos that incite violence, or child pornography. Wherever we operate locally, we respect local law, even if that means pulling down content that's legal elsewhere. But our bottom line remains a strong preference for keeping the Net as open and free as possible.