Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

Response from Andrew McLaughlin, White House, to Lee Rainie’s ‘What We Don’t Know About the Future of the Internet’

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andrew_mclaughlin IGFUSA 09“Let me drill down on one issue,” McLaughlin responded. “I am pleased Lee highlighted these architectural issues because they tend to not get a lot of attention. The Internet we have today started out as a research network that is now being treated – properly so – as critical infrastructure. The basic considerations that led to the construction of the TCP and IP protocols were to solve a set of issues that arise from the kind of shared data from universities. There are a lot of components that were not built in that, as Lee outlined, would potentially be quite useful for some of the activities that we would like to take place on the Internet. We are now confronting some fundamental choices about, for example, authentication on the Internet.”

He noted that if you want to secure routing you want to know the places you do want to get packets from and those from which you don’t want to get packets, “where, for example, malware or virus attacks might be.” Yet in places where authoritarian structures control infrastructure complete authentication of identity behind and origins of information becomes problematic.

One of the great features of the Internet is that is facilitating a profound flourishing of direct citizen-to-citizen speech in places that don’t have much of a tradition of that or have a tradition of centralized control over information. So you would alter that architecture and build in that authentication at great peril.  – Andrew McLaughlin

He noted that one of the best results of the IGF and ICANN processes is the ways in which they illuminate discussions about the architecture, protocols and principles of the Internet to a much wider audience.

“It was not exactly the original intention for ICANN,” he noted, “but it has been the effect. The project of inculcating a way of thinking about problems with the Internet architecture is profoundly important,” he said, noting that you have to know the language of the architecture to operate in today’s political and economic environment. “Without that understanding, you can’t talk intelligently about cybersecurity, how to protect privacy, how to facilitate authenticated business and governmental transactions, and so forth – well, you can talk intelligently about it, but you will be missing something.”

He noted that the efforts of multistakeholder organizations in shaping an understanding and knowledge of information networks and the people building and scaling them is important.

The role of the IGF and the value of the ICANN process extends beyond the agendas that are typically before them.  – McLaughlin

“The reason these issues are conundrums – the security, authentication, privacy, identity issues,” he said, “is that the Internet is a voluntarily interconnected set of networks. There is no central controlling authority; there is no body, no government that can decree what the technical implementations of the network will be. That fact is part of the fundamental strength of the Internet, part of what made it scale so fast, part of what’s made it so powerful, part of what made it facilitate so much speech and free expression in so many surprising ways in every culture around the world.”

He said in this decentralized environment change must now be accomplished “in terms of nudges, in terms of incentives, in terms of persuasion, rather than by decree.” He added that while the Internet architecture at this point may protect the speech of a “dissident in a repressive society or in our own society,” but there are many Internet transactions now threatened by spoofing, DNS attacks and other threats that would not occur if we had a better authentication system.

Understanding how to be precise about those balances and how to get them implemented in a voluntarily interconnected set of networks is a central problem that confronts us over the next few years. From the [Obama] administration’s perspective, the goal of an open Internet that supports free expression, that supports the kind of array, vast wave of human creativity and free expression that we see coursing over the nerves and veins of the Internet every day – maintaining that, accelerating that, enabling that is fundamentally important.  – McLaughlin

He also noted that moving forward in encouraging the principles of open government “will guide the administration’s efforts to make progress on these problems.”

He noted that the Obama administration is working to make more information accessible to everyone.

“We want to be a more open government and free the data,” he said, “to make the government a platform for citizen innovation, citizen activities, new business models, and so forth that ride over the data the government has and the taxpayers pay for. The federal government sits on a staggering amount of data, and it can be incredibly valuable if it’s made public in machine-readable formats and can be remixed and reused and combined with other kinds of data. That’s a fundamental commitment.”

-Janna Anderson,


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