14 November 2005: Day 2, Obstacles to Access... and Whose Security?

Took a cab to the Kram Palexbo, where the Summit
and IT 4 All exhibition was
happening. This is not near the airport as I originally thought, but actually
located in the middle of somewhere that looks like a construction site. All
along the journey, I kept wishing I had  Douglas
Adams’ babel fish so I
could converse with the taxi driver in Arabic or French and asked him about
what his impression of the Summit
is. Instead, I was forced to enjoy miniscule images of Zine
El Abidine Ben Ali, President of the
Republic of Tunisia, fluttering
from red and white buntings at almost every main street. 






When we finally got to the site, we were
stopped 5 times at security checks at every turn of the road and I had to flash
my registration card and a big smile to calm the security that I was indeed, a
legitimate subject to attend this conference, accredited (somehow) and all.
Hmm. It felt slightly eerie, a bit like making a visit to Kamunting, where
(mainly) political prisoners were kept under the Internal Security Act back
home. Another hmm. So after the taxi dropped me off, I had to take a minibus to
the actual site. Before going on, three persons opened and checked the contents
of my bag. They were slightly unhappy about my camera, but considering it’s teeny
tiny non-threatening Ixus-pocket size, they said “okay, no problem, thank you”,
and added as an afterthought – with a smile of course, “welcome”.








More security before going in, putting
bags into the X-ray conveyor belt, body scanned, pressing card against a reader
where the security guy checks my convict picture with my now clean face, and
we’re IN! *phew* Maybe there is an poignant metaphor to be culled from this
experience somewhere. When ICT is purportedly for All, there are still so many
challenges and obstacles to go through, and to be privileged enough somehow,
before access can be gained into the space – physical or digital.  Feeling a bit uncomfortable in my skin, I
scanned the Kram Palexbo area.








They are mainly white tents constructed
specifically for the
Summit, with different gates to have access into different areas. Gate 4
gave me access into the Exhibition area. Needless to say, there are security
guards at every entrance and exit. Sometimes armed with truncheons, sometimes
more, sometimes none. I am not sure what their criteria is.








This experience really threw me somewhat.
In some way, I am not really surp
rised by heavy policing of civil society, coming from a country where
SBs (special branch of the police) can swarm like flies to over-riped mango.
Also, this is a global summit where a lot of Very Important People are expected
to be present: government representatives, leaders of international
corporations, international donor agencies, transnational and national civil
society organisations, activists and networks, and there was even a rumour that
Oprah Winfrey might be here. So, there is a need to make sure that security of
participants are protected, to an extent.








But the strong presence and visibility of
borders, gates, guns, uniforms, truncheons, militant machismo… all served with
a smile, is a little bit too overwhelming. Coupled with the heavy handed
treatment of local human rights activists and journalists
, the irony of
Policed & Regulated Freedoms was exceedingly distracting. What are
government delegates and representatives from all over the world thinking about
the situation? Are they aware? How do these random valuation of ‘democracy’ vs
‘trouble-makers’ become justified? Is this a case where suddenly governments
are voraciously nodding their heads in agreement to respect national
sovereignity where ‘each State should know best who their trouble makers are,
and anyway we have bigger fish to fry here?’. Even as this is contentious as
far as issues of Internet governance go?






Some regions like the European Union are
articulating their concern over the issue and openly extending their support
towards the protection of human rights, Tunisian and otherwise. However, I do
wonder how many participants of WSIS are aware, concerned, agitated,
discomfited by the protection of security for the VIPs at the expense of the
not-so VIPs, and to what extent this is reflected on debates about issues of online
security? As individual members of civil society who may not have the privilege
of access to spaces where knowledge is created, decisions are made and
resources divided, which most of us are, how are we positioned in the macro-politics
and economy of digital and physical security when it comes to a global resource
like ICT? More importantly, do we get a say in where we get to stand?

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