Vienna Manipulations: it gets ever more interesting

Today there is finally a reply of Mr Lutz and Prof Bruck, both saying in unison in a computerworld.at article that there is proof of an email going to the conference participants to inform them about the existance of the blog and that the outcome of the process was democratic. It also quotes Lutz as saying:

"Die Annahme unserer Änderungsvorschläge seitens des Veranstalters unterstreicht gleichzeitig den Wert einer gleichrangigen Darstellung unterschiedlicher Geschäftsmodelle der IKT Industrie" 

("The acceptance of our requests for change by the organiser also underlines the value of displaying different business models of the ICT industry on equal level.")

 

To know or not to know?

Indeed I received an email by Prof Bruck last night, in which he attached a PDF containing a couple of emails that should disprove the manipulation of the process. It contains the following emails:

  • 18 May 2005: Prof Bruck to drafting committee with first draft
  • 24 May 2005: Prof Bruck to participants of "Digital Rights/Creative Commons" workshop with organisational information
  • 1 July 2005: Prof Bruck to drafting committee, informing about the blog and that people should involve themselves actively in the post-conference discussion.
  • 24 August 2005: Prof Bruck to conference participants, informing about the blog url, and inviting for discussion.
  • 25 August 2005: (anonymous) to Prof Bruck about problems opening a PDF contained in email of 24 August 2005.
  • 19 September 2005: Thomas Biebl to Ralf Bendrath in reply to a mail by Ralf Bendrath asking about outcomes of the Vienna Conference, not having seen anything. Thomas Biebl asks whether Ralf Bendrath knew about the blog.
  • 19 September 2005: Ralf Bendrath to Thomas Biebl replying that he knew of nothing.

 

None of the emails were digitally signed, and they were obviously edited to turn valid email addresses and in one case a name into two-letter acronyms. So it is hard to really discern what happened to the email of 24 August 2005, which is the one that Prof Bruck claims informed all participants of the blog.

As I have the habit of archiving all my incoming and outgoing email and could not find this mail, I can only suspect that the mail never reached me for whatever reason. This fate appears to be shared by the chair of our workshop, Mr Nii N. Quaynor, who confirmed in personal email that he had no idea of any modifications or any process to modify. None of the other participants of my workshop so far replied to my inquires saying that they did know about it.

Choice of tool?

In any case: Relying on a single email in the age of spam, spamfilters and blacklists is arguably a very weak link. Whether this fulfills the criteria of a transparent process is rather questionable.

Furthermore: When Ralf Bendrath was apparently informed about the blog on 19 September 2005, it was still empty with the exception of the two procedural posts of the drafting committee.

What did they expect him to do? Alert us to the emptyness? Go back to the blog every day to check whether someone maybe finally posted something? Is this realistic to expect from hundrets of high-level experts who are regularly having 14hr days, travelling a large part of their year?

Choosing a blog for such a process is indeed a very peculiar decision for someone with experience in digital media: a public mailing list with public archives would seem much more natural. Setting up GNU Mailman on a GNU/Linux system takes significantly less than an hour, comes with a very convenient web interface, and allows all people to participate in the discussion easily and with the most wide-spread, available and efficient tool for asynchronous coordination: email. Indeed, this is what the global Civil Society has been using with great success to coordinate itself and discuss its documents throughout the entire WSIS process.

Editorial process

In any case: none of this changes in any way the fact that when Microsofts comments were made three days before the official closing of the blog, they were not communicated in any way to the participants of the workshop. And even though they were made without argument to back them up and their statements are simple to disassemble for anyone with a little knowledge in the area, they entirely overrode the conclusions of the workshop.

Because unlike what Mr Lutz said in his statement quoted earlier in this posting, this is not about "giving equal mention." The original text very clearly stated that old models and approaches will coexist with the new for the forseeable future. So the change was really only about one thing: not mentioning Free Software at all.

The proposed changes to the final text were then in no way communicated to the blog or the participants of the workshop, the participants of the workshop were indeed not involved in the revision of their text in any way.

But someone else was: Ms Felzmann, CEO of the PR and lobbying company Cox Orange, member of IFPI and austrian parliamentarian got to work her own positive remarks about Digital Restriction Management (DRM) into the final text, as she was also part of the drafting committee.

As the workshop during the conference was highly critical of DRM because of the danger it poses to human rights, in particular the freedom of speech, it decided by consensus to not mention DRM as a promising way forward. We would have been glad to explain the reasons behind this if Ms Felzmann had given us the chance.

By inserting her statement, Ms Felzmann inverted this part of the Vienna Conclusions into the opposite of what they actually were. Again with no opportunity for the workshop participants to react to this change.

Transparent and democratic?

Does such a process qualify as transparent and democratic? Not in my understanding of transparency or democracy. For one, the entire process of how the final document would be reached, including the decision procedures, should have been available before the conference. It should have been put online on the web page for reference, sent by email to all participants before the conference, added as printout to the conference papers and also sent to the participants once more by email after the conference.

If a blog is used for the discussion, participants of the workshops should have received email notification whenever someone posted something related to their workshop. They should also have been given a final chance to comment on the proposed final version of the text.

As it were, all power was with the drafting committee, and it was impossible to know what they were doing or deciding. The committee was entirely intransparent, their discussions and reasons for decisions were not communicated or made available in any other form.

And finally, the committee was not elected.

Decide for yourself whether this is what you consider transparent and democratic. Mr Lutz and Prof Bruck seem to think so, I tend to disagree.

In fact, when taking a look at the infamous blog, there is something else that seems interesting: The posting by Ms Felzmann to promote DRM was made on October 5, 2005, although the procedural notes cleary state "This blog will be closed on 30 September 2005.".

So it seems that however flawed from the onset, the rules defined by the organisation for the process did not matter when it came to adding some DRM promotion.


Background

As the whole story is getting bigger and bigger, here is a wrap-up of links to the different parts that together make up the whole story:

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