Can the Internet be governed?

Can the Internet be governed?

Summary: "A lot of developing country governments don’t know much about the Internet. We see the government of India picking up one of our papers, then saying ‘We’ve got to preserve the end to end principle.’ which means they’re reading it."

TOPICS: Government

The Internet remains the world’s biggest open source application. The protocols are open, free, and available to all.

The Internet is governed based on the end-to-end principle, which is in big trouble these days. Countries like China routinely violate it. So do companies like Verizon.

Without effective governance the Internet could easily balkanize, splitting up into separate root DNS systems maintained by carriers or countries. So in December 2003 a group of American and Swiss academics launched the Internet Governance Project, to offer unbiased intelligence on the issues to the world’s governments and civil society organizations (like the CDT ). One of their periodic reports, on how ICANN might be reformed came out in April.

Milton MuellerI talked to one of the authors, Milton Mueller of Syracuse University (right), shortly after ZDNet published a piece by Tucows CEO Eliot Noss warning of a UN-ITU conspiracy to strip ICANN of its power and impose multi-government censorship and taxation.

"Eliot fears the sky is falling," Mueller said. "What we’ve discovered is, by forcing the US government and ICANN to come to terms with the rest of the world about how the Internet is governed, we’ve opened up avenues of reform."

Mueller’s paper, co-written with Hans Klein of Georgia Tech, offered three paths to reform – top-down, bottom-up, and lateral. Getting other governments involved would mitigate American power, he said, while bottom-up reforms could give users input they were promised, but never given by ICANN. Lateral reform, through the ITU, would force ICANN to compete for users’ allegiance.

Mueller is still chair of the "non-commercial users constituency" within ICANN – universities and public interest groups. "The WSIS process" so criticized by Noss "could be a way of getting governments to agree governments should not be in control."

Right now, in fact, governments are in control. Specifically one government. Specifically the U.S. government. "Whenever valuable resources are to be distributed, it’s given to the U.S. economy," he said, citing the failed re-assignment of .net registration away from Verisign.

American interests concerning the Internet are dominated by concerns over homeland security, law enforcement, and intellectual property. Not that there is anything wrong with any of this, but these are not the world’s obsessions, and other views need to be heard, he said.

"The system is biased to the U.S., and the rest of the world sees that, and it’s naïve of Eliot to write this sort of ‘China and Syria and Cuba are on the working group.’ If you’re going to have international discussions you have to deal with those countries. And they’re on the government advisory committee of ICANN too."

So what happens now? Continuing education, said Mueller.

"A lot of developing country governments don’t know much about the Internet. We see the government of India picking up one of our papers, then saying ‘We’ve got to preserve the end to end principle’ which means they’re reading it."

ICANN defenders no longer claim that ICANN doesn’t do Internet policy, he concludes, thanks in part to his group. Which means now the discussion of Internet governance can finally begin.

Topic: Government

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  • Youse guys are schizophrenic

    So, the mono culture is BAD because of MS - but now it'll be GOOD because of what exactly?

    So what is so wrong with a little balkanization, if it's so great to have competition in terms of operating systems and how software is done (open versus proprietary source)?

    So, let countries such as China etc. that want to control access their own chunk-o-spine - and let the UN control a central node where the various backbones tie in. That way the graft on the UN side can be contained to a small chunk - the totalitarion states can do what they want, and the rest of us don't have to be bothered.
  • Invent your own

    "American interests concerning the Internet are dominated by concerns over homeland security, law enforcement, and intellectual property. Not that there is anything wrong with any of this, but these are not the world?s obsessions, and other views need to be heard, he said."

    Then let the rest of the world's governments set up their own "internets". Each government could then control its citizens' access however it wants. If interoperability is so important, all of these disparate internets could easily talk to one another -- if, of course, their respective "enlightened" governments will allow it.

    This is nothing but yet another thinly-veiled attack on America and its principles.

    Carl Rapson
  • yes, they really hate us

    "the lure of Democracy" has turned recently to the "become democratic or else" model. As a citizen of the US I hope that we put away this model, and retreat to the Teddy Rosevelt era of "walk softly, but carry a big stick". Between the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, words with North Korea seeming to lead to a nuclear holocaust, and the sale of a Navy to Taiwan who will defend itself against our sole manufacturing facility, China, and of course the monopoly power of Macrosoft, I would say the world has had about it's fill of US domination of the news and the political landscape. I think that there should be a breakup of the internet, certainly to the point where I know what country I'm getting spammed from. It would be nice not to have hackers from China, Germany, or Israel in my computer. Although it may slow down the Americanizaton of the world, that is probably a good thing. Let them register to use our network, let them adhere to our laws, let them respect our Trade agreements and patent law. Legitimate concerns will always find a way to communicate, but it will become more difficult to hack from abroad. If our internet was a model that the world envied, I'm sure they'd be lining up to log on, if not I really don't want to shove anything else down their throats, and want some kind of protection from the government that I pay with my tax dollars. Screw WWW, let's have USW, and go from there.
    • Nationallism

      I find the nationalism on this thread very interesting.

      Breaking up the Internet means losing touch with the world, and many Americans say "bring it on."
      • paranoid??

        the real point is that the world is ready to break it off with us. The inevitability of segmenting the network to gain contol of it's parts is overwhelming. I didn't say shut off the feed from any country, just as I wouldn't say "no international phone calls". I think that you are out of touch with world sentiment about the US. Although you are probably right that in the short term it would mean a reduced amount of connectivity, it would not leave any excuses for failure to remedy the problem. sometimes you have to take a break, and sort things out, and I believe that that time must be sooner than later.
        • nationalism vs realism

          I'm a pretty informed computer user, and yet I find myself getting attacked from forign websites (at least according to Symantic) Create a USW, police it well, and see where market share goes. I think many are just as happy to stay in their own back yard.
      • Perhaps because...

        ...more and more Americans are tired of being the scapegoat for everything that is wrong in the world. America is criticized if it doesn't use its dominant economic and military power to correct injustice in the world, yet it is also blamed if it does (particularly by Europe). Americans are collectively held responsible for what its government does, but are criticized when they hold others collectively responsible.

        Besides, what "rest of the world" is there? Europe? Hates Americans. China? Hates Americans. South America? Hates Americans. All Muslim countries? Hate Americans. What is there to connect to?

        Developing countries don't want to expend the resources to educate their people and bring themselves up to the level of the developed world -- they want the developed world to give them everything, while they spend their time in tribal wars or ethnic cleansing. Why would Americans want to give their technology to such countries? They would only use it to further opress their people. Wouldn't we be, in a sense, enablers?

        Carl Rapson
      • Because many Americans

        are moronic fools that have never set foot out of there own state, let alone country. They have no idea of what the world is really, other that what they perceive from hollystupid and the local media.

        We have already cut ourselves off from the rest of the world so what is one more bridge burned. I defended this country for 14 years to preserve freedom and the democratic republic. And all of that was for naught. The American public is so out of touch with reality it's pathetic. We have become apathetic in our own lives and families. The American dream is dead, and reborn in the form of make enough to survive.

        Americans are materialistic, undereducated and uncouth. And I say that as an American. Americans have forgotten what true patriotism is. They have forgotten what it means to help your neighbor and those in need.

        Our government has been actively overthrowing other sovereign governments and instituting our own puppet governments. Iraq is no different than any other nation we have screwed up. The Europeans see America for what it is becoming, a fascist state of eternal fear. All I see in the news and media is fear, fear and more fear. The Americans are being coerced into believing a false fear.

        Nothing this government will do short of locking down the borders with a shoot to kill order (sure that will be coming soon so we can't leave) will stop terrorism. Not the National ID not the bogus security check points at the airports. But the American people just blindly follow along. So long as they have their gas hogging SUV's with DVD's and cell phones they don't care.

        This idea of segmenting the internet is just another step towards total control of the American people. And of course they will support it, they are idiots that cannot see past their own front door.

        One thing I did a lot of in my travels in the Navy was watch people from around the world and compare lifestyles and social beliefs and value systems. And we are still infants in the global scale of things. The empire is crumbling, so war is inevitable, it's a distraction from the subversion of the American people by their government. All under the guise of a perceived threat. But what threat did Iraq pose to the United States?

        No weapons of mass destruction have been found. The few ?plans? that were found were insignificant and incomplete. Iraq was at least 20 years from even coming close to figuring out weapons grade nukes. As for chemical weapons, where are these huge stockpiles? The main reason we went in and only a small fraction of Americans are questioning where... and surprisingly, the feds have been very quiet about it.

        This country is on the road to failure and George W Bush is at the helm. It's a sad time in the history of a once proud and respected nation. We are now on the same path as the very people we defeated in 1945. The fundamental difference is we are not committing open genocide. But we sure are killing a lot of innocent women, men and children in a country that doesn't want our form of government, whose religion does not allow the kind of freedoms we have. If they wanted it they could have gotten it... just like we did 230+ years ago. We are now the bully, the public is ignorant and self absorbed and soon someone bigger will come along and kick the sh!t out of us... and then what?
        Linux User 147560
    • Self loathing nationalism.

      I don't think I've ever come across that particular combination before.
  • Keeping the Net Free

    Thank goodness someone is reporting on this.

    The end-to-end principle of the Net is at the heart of its success - and fundamental to its continuing growth and developing value.

    These things tend to go in cycles - I remember the excitement generated by X.25 back in the '80s. But redundant national standards for telephony and leased line infrastructure still hindered its adoption.

    Eventually, we found ways round national limitations - and the data flowed. It was from such lessons that the old Media saying comes: "The Information wants to be free".

    Information is generated by us, the people. Institutions can have a hand in helping to improve the quality, collating similar views and datasets, and by lending their names they can help to distribute the value that flows from information.

    Historically, Institutions have also lent their infrastructure to distribution - and some, particularly governments, have difficulty understanding that this is no longer needed.

    There is a downside to our generation of information, but let's ignore that for the moment.

    The Net has had a long and very successful run, almost without regulation. There are few areas of human activity - even in countries where we routinely believe we are free citizens - that are not subject to questioning by government authorities, subject to the rule of law - and therefore courts of law and arbitration, and even arbitrary action (e.g. by police).

    We are now facing a period when governments seek to re-invent the Net in order to make it accountable to political power. We can hardly blame them for this; How would you feel if you went to your Congressman to ask for assistance in tracking down an on-line crook who had done you wrong and he said: ?Sorry, my hands are tied, there is no Net police force ? and even if there were they would have no enforceable powers.?

    Yes, it would be much better if people could learn to look after themselves, if for no other reason than our taxes would be a lot lower. Unfortunately, the model that works best is to empower someone to look out for us. That is why every country in the World has police ? sometimes, as in the US, several police forces.

    A Net police force will come. Actually, probably several ? because there are several national courts and political establishments to satisfy.

    But, it is not enough to accept the inevitable. We could lose the Net, we could lose our privacy (some have even speculated that we have lost privacy already), and we could lose the ability to speak and listen freely. In short, we could lose the freedom to be ourselves on-line. It is only by being involved in the continuing fight to protect the Net, that we can ensure that all we have gained in the last 15 years is not lost to some international bureaucratic treaty
    Stephen Wheeler
  • isn't it?

    The internet is some what governed. People are arrested all the time. But there are some problems like spam and even too much governing. The great thing about the Net is the fact that it has controls built in. From the OS and applications on the PC to the gateway network it belongs to and so on. There has always been a woking standard on how these networks operate, communicate, and even ban other networks. It needs adjustments but we should be careful! We have enough bottlenecks. Let it flow freely and come to it's own balance. It's done well so far with a few exceptions.
  • Yes, badly

    A - the ITU is the master group of 'Phone Companies', they hate progress, they hate freedom, they loathe aything that diminishes their control of what you can say, when you can say it, who you can say it to, and MOST of all your not paying them for the privilege. They are local government agencies and all about revenue and control. Every time there has been a dispute between human rights (people over government) and repressive governments, they voted in favor of the goverments.
  • More is more

    In the interest of keeping the www free and open,
    so that anyone can be in touch with anyone, I
    still believe that if we had a national network,
    that was designed to withstand attack, allow the
    secure use of voip,banking, trading and other
    services, and removed this traffic from the www
    that we would have more freedom, and less
    government interference. If the cop has a beat to
    patrol, then he patrols that beat, and not
    others. right now the United States cannot be
    expected (or justified) to be a policeman for the
    entire worlds network traffic. If we created a
    network that was incompatible with the www but
    still utilized the same equipment, allowed data
    transfer between the two, but not address
    translation, people could still communicate, but
    not be free to hack at random from 10000 miles
    away. There is no reason that the US should not
    have a separate network from the world, something
    uniquely American, like the US itself. I believe
    consumers are tired of worrying about foreign
    mobs roving in the "streets of American commerce"
    utilizing the net.
    This network could provide educational content,
    secure communication, and a national pride that
    we had created something worthy of our children.
    some might call it tame, but maybe that's what we
    need. Not every street has to be a red light
    district, every home doesn't have to be open to
    intrusion. I read an article on the ZDNET about
    the homeland security's efforts at securing the
    web, it acknowledged that the "web was not
    designed with security in mind", how about
    starting from scratch and designing one with
    security in mind?? Sentimentality for a lost age
    of innocence is natural, but confronting problems
    head on, with innovation instead of reservation
    is the American way. I believe there is a great
    opportunity here to move the highways and byways
    of the 60's into the 21st century.
    Accountability, recordkeeping, infrastructure,
    policing, that is what I expect from my bank, my
    government and my network. With the explosion in
    communication, there is little doubt that the
    "voice of America" will be heard, or that we
    would be able to hear others. Having a big
    brother is not always a bad thing, especially
    when there are bullies on the block.
  • Ask Al Gore. He invented it, don'cha know.


    How can it be biased to the US when China and other communist countries readily block certain sites from their own populations?!

    China violates it for piracy too. Whoopdeedoo, that hasn't stopped corporate-America from retaliating by removing the jobs they put over there (which in turn would also take care of their status as the biggest Superpower pretty quickly...)

    The US violates it by sending jobs out the door; it makes offshoring a much more viable reality for them. (they're trying to curtail political expression as well... seems the Chinese ain't the only commies around...)

    As for Verizon, no comment... but once my contract runs out I sure as halliburton am not renewing it (and watch as they summarily renew it and then sock me the $200 cancellation fee when I say I want out... a pity, Verizon's service is actually good, but I digress...)

    It's a mess. Life is also what we make of it, so I'm not surprised that laws, litigation, and selfishness rule the internet's primary controlling forces.