IGF-USA Scenario Discussion: Internet Islands – The Rise of Digital Fortresses and the End of the Digital Republic
IGF participants broke into three different rooms to discuss three different, possible potential-future scenarios for the Internet in 2020. In this session, the brief description given to the discussants was: By 2020 the Internet as we know it in 2010 is no more. Concerns over national security and cybercrime led to calls for “safe zones” on the Net. Governments taxed e-commerce as a way to address budget deficits and trade barriers were constructed, closing off markets for goods and information. Mega-companies constructed their own walls to keep criminals out and customers in. At the same time the digital divide grew quickly as poorer nations and smaller companies could not afford to keep up with new security requirements and the entry fees needed to access the secure parts of the Web. Large parts of the world have found themselves “outside the wall” and left to fend for themselves, facing a combination of rapacious criminals, radical groups and bottom-feeding enterprises. For those on an Internet Island, life goes on, but in a more limited way than before.
Details of the session:
A small group of telecommunications leaders and advocates of human rights and privacy met to discuss the Internet Islands potential-future scenario at the Internet Governance Forum-USA 2010 at Georgetown University Law Center. They were led by Garland McCoy, founder of the Technology Policy Institute, Andrew Mack, founder and principal of AMGlobal Consulting, and Iren Borissova, senior manager for international public policy at VeriSign.
This scenario sets up a closed-off future for the Internet. Metaphorical islands have crept in, developed by businesses and governments to limit the flow of outside information while keeping users on the islands secure. You can read the one-page PDF used to launch this discussion here: http://api.ning.com:80/files/OVKwetXFSDRrq4nfkx0duSjNpXJLGlyyKV0S4i2A1FVDA4WwNCN3fHRTtQr5eq7L286HdzHWVJjsf0uynsER71dCuDBn4G8M/InternetIslands.pdf
Scenario facilitators McCoy, Mack and Borissova and other discussants described the Internet of 2010 as a mainland with some islands and more continuing to bubble to the surface. They proposed that having multistakeholder conversations is the way to avoid a more fragmented future and prevent future islands from cutting off the rest of the digital world.
“One of the major antidotes we could take to fight against it is having multistakeholder dialogues like those that we are engaged in now,” said Leslie Martinkovics, director of international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon.
The group imagined four island types: totalitarian, culture, liberal and corporate. The totalitarian islands are the governments who limit access and regulate what users are viewing. In some cases government officials require users to identify themselves in order to oversee what is being viewed.
On the liberal islands, while there are good intentions, countries or groups set up virtual trade barriers to gain revenue. Some participants likened this to the fees on rental cars at airports, where visitors are taxed instead of the voters.
A corporate island is one where companies provide a safe haven for their customers while providing additional security measures to prevent criminal breaches. And the cultural islands are created by countries and groups who wish to preserve their culture. The French mandate to resist the incursion of other cultures and focus on local content was used as an example of a cultural island.
But are these really islands, asked McCoy, or are they peninsulas with chokeholds to the mainland’s information. And Courtney Radsch, senior program officer at Freedom House working on the Global Freedom of Expression Campaign and the Southeast Asia Human Rights Defender Initiative, reminded the group that increased access does not always mean increased information.
The scenario participants agreed that international groups like the IGF must continue to meet and bring experts and interested individuals together to discuss the future of the Internet to prevent these islands from continuing to surface.
-Anna Johnson, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org