Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Internet Governance - waking the tiger

I'm in Wellington this week playing inside the beltway. It's a fascinating space, especially when, as in the past few days, you get to watch the various policy juggernauts position their rocket launchers around the Beehive, as they all jockey for preliminary pole positions for the upcoming budget round.

Inside the Beehive the politicians do what they do best - talk - argue - fight - annoy - and then try and settle for the best they can. And here's a secret. I like them. Yep - you heard. I actually like politicians, and can even , on occasion, be heard to say I respect a few of them.

I alsao know the alternative is Bagdad. I've always known this, ever since I was 14 years old. Two years later I was one of the youngest civil servants in the Scottish Office in Dover House, Whitehall. The Secretary of State for Scotland was Willie Ross.

He also had five or six other Minsters who reported to him. They in turn were constantly being briefed by senior civil servants who had come down on the night sleeper from Edinburgh to coach their respective masters on Scottish matters - including , education , health, development, and of course, the oldest of the oldest old trumpets, agriculture and fisheries.

I used to make the tea for all concerned, plus do the filing, plus run messages for one and all including picking up a new fishing net for Sir Douglas Haddow. It was a great time to be 16, espcially as a precursor to 60's London. And I learned heaps! Not least being, if politics matters - people matter more.

As for brains - they were a present - a gift - a lucky bag, and something you had no right to keep to yourself. And if you didn't use them properly, then you were wasting a gift that should have gone to someone who cared! I know - a wee bit over the top for the 21st post modern world, but hey, that's the Scottish way - end of story!

Peter Dengate Thrush
Wellington based Peter Dengate Thrush is someone who I suspect would need no introduction to this kind of thinking. He has just been elected Chair of the board of ICANN, the US-based organisation that globally coordinates the Internet’s unique identifiers.

Peter has been involved with ICANN since its inception in 1998. He has participated in the international working groups that lead to its formation, and has served on numerous ICANN committees. He is also a member in Internet NZ

I think he is a perfect person to help negotiate the future of ICANN. He is also going to need all of his well known supply of tact and patience to negotiate all the egos who will be popping out of the woodwork when the vexed question of Internet governance comes back into pay.

Those who follow this stuff will know this is one of the issues that nearly derailed the final session of WSIS [The World Summit on the Information Society]. The different sides played the issues for all they were worth - the USA claiming that the Internet was best left with their final say [ICANN's after all, despite their collegiate patina, exists by the grace and favour of the US State Department] .

Over in the UN, some more assertive voices claimed it was high time that the UN took a more active role in 'governing the Internet' - a point of view which however logical on the surface, quickly bogged down in the quicksands of freedom of expression and national identity, with some of energy and tension around this dynamic still on view at the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) site.

Internet Governance Forum
In the event the final upshot at Tunis was a compromise - everything would remain the same [read the USA collective sigh of relief here - and marvel at their arrogance] but that in the meantime, there would be a new international body, The Internet Governance Forum, which was tasked to at least keep the notion of a more collective governance alive, albeit on life support.

So far it has met once. The second meeting is next week in Rio. I'm bringing it to mind for four reasons.

First, the meeting and the isues are important. Second, since Tunis the USA has gone on a devasting ideological fishing trip which has seen all their credit points around global peace and justice go for a holiday. Third, Peter Dengate Thrush's elevation to the head of ICANN feels like the organisation has found someone with both the stamina and the mana to pick up the lost threads of the argument.

Oxford Internet Institute
Fourth, I came across this marvellous set of resources from the OII which puts some welcome energy back into the debate on how we intend to manage this glorious and totally wonderful, 'internet thing' - cos believe sometime soon, it as all going to come centre stage.

So for those who are interested - the homework trail is here - and yep - there just might be an exam down the way.

OII Resources

'Techno-politics, Internet Governance and some challenges facing the Internet'Working paper on Internet Governance by Terje Rasmussen (OII Visitor in 2007): It addresses the Internet as a terrain of 'techno-political controversies' which have influenced the development of the Internet since the start. Download the paper (pdf, 125kb):

Fragments: 'We have entered the fourth phase of the Net's history, characterised
by several opposing tendencies: increasingly advanced technical solutions that bring new terminals and platforms and a greater awareness of what the Net represents in a social sense, but also a closer legal and political intervention in the Net by the IT bureaucrats.'
'The Net's architecture assumed moral surroundings – which the same architecture's success is now in the process of weakening. An increasing number of functions are being installed on the Net to protect users against breakdowns, sabotage and contamination of information, but such measures distance the Net from its original principle.'

'Deciphering the Codes of Internet Governance
Dutton / Palfrey / Peltu: : Understanding the Hard Issues at Stake' Summary of an event organised around the topics of openness, security, diversity and access and providing an overview of the IGF and the issues it plans to address (Sept 2006).

'The emerging Internet governance mosaic: connecting the pieces'
Dutton / Peltu:
Summary of a forum attended by members of the WGIG Secretariat (May 2005).

You can see more OII governance work at:

Webcasts on Internet Governance
Much of OII research on Internet Governance has centred on a programme of seminars, forums and conferences. Resulting webcasts are listed below:

Internet Governance for Development: Focusing on the Issues
Focus: Summary of an event organised around the topics of openness, security, diversity and access and providing an overview of the IGF and the issues it plans to address. Open discussion (rec. 31 Aug-1 Sept 2006)

Recent Developments in FCC Internet Regulation
Focus: Summarising the swift move of the US Federal Commmunications Commission in removing old rules (common carriage) and imposing new ones (E911, CALEA), and assessing the current US debate about network owners' provision of a 'prioritized Internet' (rec. 18 April 2006)
Speaker: Susan Crawford (a member of the ICANN board of directors)

Internet Governance for Dummies
Focus: What aspects of the Internet need to be governed, and how effectively are ICANN, the IETF, and the ITU dealing with the key issues of Internet governance? (rec. 4 July 2005)
Speaker: John Levine (a member of ICANN's At Large Advisory Committee)

The Future of the Internet - and How to Stop It
Focus: What lies around the corner for the Internet, how to avoid it, and how to study and affect the future of the Internet using the distributed power of the network itself, using privacy as a signal example (rec. 25 April 2005)
Speaker: Professor Jonathan Zittrain
Webcast site:


Anonymous said...

Loved the introduction to your beltway piece about being a 16 year old in Whitehall.
Methinks you should write a memoir.
But then I doubt you wouild ever have time. My god you get around!

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