At a two-day “eG8” forum in Deauville, France, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt pushed back against calls by French President Nicolas Sarkozy for government regulation over the Internet.
The two American Internet giants were among a group of six technology executives Sarkozy convened at the annual Group of Eight summit to develop proposals on Internet regulation and the protection of intellectual copyright—preferably conducted by the government.
“It would be contradictory to exclude governments from this huge forum. Nobody could, nor should, forget that these governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies,” Sarkozy said in opening remarks to the executives. “To forget this is to run the risk of democratic chaos and hence anarchy. To forget this would be to confuse populism with democracy of opinion.”
But Schmidt and Zuckerberg didn’t share Sarkozy’s enthusiasm for a government overseer. Schmidt went so far as to suggest that governments may implement “stupid” rules that slow the growth of the Internet.
"Technology will move faster than governments, so don't legislate before you understand the consequences,” he said during a plenary session, warning governments against “overregulating” the Internet.
Zuckerberg was a touch more diplomatic, perhaps because the link Sarkozy drew between democracy and the Internet was a direct result of how social media like Facebook helped ignite revolutions in the Middle East throughout the Arab Spring. Regulation, he implied, was not necessarily a feasible goal.
“You can't isolate some things you like about the Internet and control other things that you don't," he said.
Sarkozy spent much of his opening speech talking about the benefits of Internet communication, but he closed with a warning to the group he had assembled: “We need this dialogue, we need to understand your expectations, your aspirations, your needs. And you need to hear our limitations, our red lines, the problems we shoulder in the name of the general interest of our societies.”
After two days of sessions, the Internet executives were scheduled to meet with and present recommendations to G-8 heads. Unsurprisingly, the event reportedly ended with few concrete proposals to take back to the leaders. But even Zuckerberg tried to dress it up—the famously casual 27-year-old was seen in a suit and tie.