IGF-USA 2012 Workshop: Can an Open Internet Survive – Challenges and Issues
Brief session description:
Thursday, July 26, 2012 – This workshop focused on the challenges of keeping the Internet open while simultaneously maintaining a safe and secure environment for individuals, businesses and governments. Governments encounter a wide ranging set of issues and concerns that can limit an open Internet, including the cost of connectivity, spam/malware, intellectual property rights, human rights and objectionable content. Businesses often make decisions for business purposes that may contribute to closing off the Internet. Leaders in governments’ legislative branches, including the US Congress and its counterparts around the world, and business leaders do not always recognize the implications of the actions they take that might negatively influence the Internet. In addition, citizens may voluntarily but without full understanding accept moves that contribute to closing off the Internet, quietly accepting actions and decisions that affect its openness in a negative way. The session worked to identify the key characteristics of an open Internet; the global and national challenges that threaten this; the initiatives pursued to advance the open Internet; multistakeholder engagement to develop and promote an open Internet.
Details of the session:
The session was moderated by Robert Guerra, principal at Privaterra and senior advisor to Citizen Lab in the school of global affairs at the University of Toronto. Panelists were:
- Ellen Blackler, vice president for global public policy, The Walt Disney Company
- Thomas Gideon, technical director of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation
- Andrew McDiarmid, policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology
- Julian Sanchez, research fellow at the Cato Institute
- Paul Diaz, director of policy for the Public Interest Registry
- John Morris, director of Internet policy, office of policy analysis and development of the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Between copyright infringement, intellectual property, piracy and protection of online privacy, the openness of the Internet is being threatened on all sides, according to six IGF-USA panelists, who gathered to define and assess the challenges to an open Internet Thursday at Georgetown Law Center.
“The free and open Internet oughtn’t be a free-for-all,” said Ellen Blackler, vice president for global public policy for The Walt Disney Company.
A focus on the balance between maintaining an open Internet while ensuring security and privacy and minimizing piracy has always loomed as one of the largest challenges to the future of the Internet. While members of this panel represented diverse Internet backgrounds, the all agreed that Internet policy must and will continue to evolve with challenges posed by the struggle between these often-competing values.
What is Internet openness?
The definition of an open Internet differs even within seasoned IGF attendees.
John Morris of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) cited the principles of Internet openness recommended by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last year, which highlight several key characteristics, including the opportunities for both collaboration and independent work.
An open Internet allows users to operate “independently of one another, so as not to have a centralized single body to control or impose regulations,” Morris said.
The Internet policymaking process additionally needs to be open for collaboration, Morris said.
“What is it that keeps barriers low, what steps can we take to address challenges?” asked Andrew McDiarmid, policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT). “It’s about learning … to keep the process more open and open to more voices.”
Though the openness of the Internet is one of the Web’s key characteristics, challenges ensue when openness trumps privacy.
“The openness principle has failed the public in privacy interest,” Blackler said.
U.S. policies directly affect those abroad
In the United States, Internet access is virtually everywhere, but the major challenge for Internet openness in many other parts of the world is online accessibility, especially in remote areas and in developing nations.
“Access at an affordable cost is key because then we can innovate,” said panel moderator Robert Guerra, the founder of Privaterra.
Panelists agreed that though global policies across the board on the issues tied to Internet openness are unlikely to be established due to differing cultural values and standards from country to country, cooperation on the international scale is still quite important.
“Not that I think we need to achieve one global norm about a particular issue, but we need to achieve a global level of interoperability,” Morris said.
In some countries, global Internet operability is a major issue due to government blocking and filtering–the management of what content citizens may or may not access or share. Thomas Gideon of the Open Technology Institute noted the difficulties that global policymakers face with nations that exercise a great deal of control over available content.
“A large part of what I do in my work is to defend human rights online,” Gideon said. “That’s equally fraught with the risks that those trying to speak freely in contentious and crisis regimes face.”
Paul Diaz, director of policy for the Public Interest Registry noted the challenge of governance measures working locally and globally. “What works in one environment, what may work here in the US, is not necessarily applicable in another country” he said. Ultimately, the Internet is global and therein lies the challenge.”
Piracy and copyright: What is the solution?
When discussing the widespread nature of piracy online and the difficulty in regulating it, panelists differed in their preferred approach to dealing with the challenges of intellectual and copyrighted property.
“Companies like Netflix are slowly finding ways to shift from a product to a service model,” Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, said, suggesting this as one successful choice for property owners.
Sanchez argued that the best way to discourage piracy is to create services that offer consumers a wide variety of choices and control over consumption of goods at a fair price. He said this is a better method than exclusively offering products that can be copied and shared and pirated just as easily.
Private niches online: Social networking and the cloud
With the advent of social networking and the desire to share and access personal information, the Internet includes private and targeted content, as well.
Sanchez emphasized that the structure of the Internet should be seen more as a network of people and relationships than as a technological architecture.
Facebook’s Sarah Wynn-Williams said social networking represents the “desire for people to connect and share and be open,” adding that the future of Internet policy must meet these demands and “preserve the ability of people to [share personal content online,] which is genuinely under threat.”
Panelists also noted that files shared through cloud data storage continue to be as difficult to regulate as physically shared materials. Just as the government has often largely chosen not to investigate copied CDs or cassettes that become distributed among friends, content in the cloud is as difficult to trace and regulate.
— Madison Margeson