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

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Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Opening Remarks

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Brief description:

The opening plenary session of the third IGF-USA featured general remarks from Pablo Molina CIO of the host institution, Georgetown University Law School, Chengetai Masango, a representative of the United Nations Secretariat for the Internet Governance Forum, and Ambassador Philip Verveer of the U.S. State Department.

Details of the session:

JULY 18, 2011 - Ambassador Phil Verveer, US Coordinator for the International Communications and Information Policy, address the audience, highlighting the importance of internet governance and IGF's multistakeholder approach.

U.S. Ambassador Phil Verveer emphasized the importance of keeping the Internet free of what he called “intergovernmental controls” across continents so that ideas and information can continue to flow openly and freely at IGF-USA. Certainly, he said, it’s the U.S. view that the Internet not be used as a means of oppression or repression.

“It’s equally clear that we—all humanity—are better off if the Internet remains as it is, free of intergovernmental controls,” Verveer said. “In the view of the United States this is critically important. (An open and free Internet should be) open to new ideas and uses and to the kinds of organic change it has served so well and also free of censorship and other tools of political oppression.”

Verveer said intergovernmental controls involve Internet lag times and attempts at coming to a consensus about important issues, which ultimately results in locating the “lowest common denominator.” And all that is inconsistent with today’s version of the Internet, he said.

An excess of rules and regulations, too, are problematic because of the fretful future they could bring.

“There’s a great danger that we’re going to end up in a situation where some administrations can claim the assistance of all other administrations with respect to things like censorship and greater political control that we in the United States feel very, very strongly should be avoided.”

One way to avoid unnecessary rules is through communication, and that’s where the Internet Governance Forum, a multistakeholder organization, enters the picture, said Pablo Molina, campus CIO and AVP of Georgetown University.

“Communication is a fundamental human right,” Molina said.  “The ability to communicate with others and exchange information is critical for human development.”

Individuals who send and receive money across borders and immigrants who use the Internet to bridge the gap between their foreign and origin countries must rely on communication, he said.

And with communication comes the right to education, according to Molina. More and more students and professors are working at colleges and universities form other parts of the world and opening up countries to engage in international initiatives, Molina said.

JULY 18, 2011 - Panel members for the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011 opening plenary session (L-R), Ambassador Phil Verveer, Pablo Molina, Marilyn Cade and Chengetai Masango, each addressed the participants to kick off the day's events.

These important initiatives is why the private sector, all countries, governments, private organizations and academia are all on equal footing while at IGF, said Chengetai Masango, United Nations Secretariat of the IGF, who discussed the history of IGF during his opening remarks and will speak later in the afternoon about the national Internet Governance Forum this September in Kenya.

This allows for open and honest discussion without the fear of something being held against a speaker because no policy decisions are made at IGF, he said. Instead it is a chance for people to learn, share and bring back new ideas to help shape their various groups.

Some have criticized IGF’s approach as a soft form of government, yet Masango stressed the forum is meant to spur discussion and open dialogue to increase cooperation in the technological field.

“The Internet is the largest and most successful cooperative venture in history,” Verveer said.

And it has produced many multistakeholder organizations, including ICANN and IGF, with many more cropping up every year.

Marilyn Cade, chief catalyst for IGF-USA, welcomed more than 100 members of civil society, academia, government and the private sector to the third IGF-USA and laid out the busy day ahead.

“We focus on IGF-USA by taking a national perspective with a global view,” Cade said. “And you will see that in the workshops and sessions today.”

The workshops and sessions will focus on youth Internet stereotypes, regionalization of the Internet, cloud computing and the changing landscape in the domain name system.

To read more about the global IGF, click here:

– Anna Johnson


Online privacy concerns engage IGF-USA panelists in lively debate

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Panelists shared their philosophical differences about online confidentiality and self-regulation in a discussion about privacy and security implications for Web 2.0 at the Internet Governance Forum-USA conference Oct. 2, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

All panelists agreed that online privacy remains an important issue, and that corporations have an ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that their consumers continue to enjoy some level of anonymity and confidentiality online. But they disagreed about whether self-regulation or government-enforced standards are the best method to achieve that end.

Ginger McCall, EPIC staff counsel, said companies’ privacy policies are often overwrought with technical and legal jargon, making them difficult for users to comprehend. They become too robust that users often click through them without much acknowledgement.

Privacy policies, in my experience, are generally just disclosure policies. They don’t exist to protect users’ privacy. They exist to protect companies from liability.   – Ginger McCall

McCall said an overriding concern is that the policies often allow companies to change their guidelines at any time often with no notice to the users.

A bigger problem, still, is that companies are able to collect information about users without ever providing them with the information they have gathered.

demooy_IGFUSA_09“One creative suggestion that I might make is that businesses just give consumers everything they know about them,” said Michelle Demooy, a senior associate of “If you’re not a bad actor, it can’t hurt you to give consumers everything you know about them. It can only strengthen your brand going forward.”

Both McCall and Demooy specifically expressed growing anxiety about cloud computing, which allows Web hosting services to house the documents and data of users on their corporate servers. (Think of Google Docs and Gmail, for example.) So what used to be on a person’s personal computer is now on a larger server.

“It’s great for information sharing and collaboration, but not for privacy,” McCall said. “But it allows companies or outsiders to create detailed profiles of users. We need to see a stronger security system and we need to see companies are following through. There needs to be a strong regulation of cloud computing. There should be binding legal standards, terms of services have to be revised and privacy policies must be more transparent.”

Kathryn D. Ratte, from the division of Privacy and Internet Protection of the Federal Trade Commission, said the FTC supports self-regulation not government directives. She says allowing technologies to emerge promotes innovation.

“Our policy has been to enforce self-regulation,” Ratte said. “We analyze what’s going on in the market and put forth standards to adhere to. The flexibility allows us in some ways to act more quickly. We can just address these issues as they raise issues for consumers.”

Jeff Brueggeman, vice president of public policy for AT&T, said the FTC has laid down an ample baseline for legal protection on the Internet that certainly needs continual monitoring but not government intervention.

The FTC is taking a proactive but engaged approach. We don’t give consumers enough credit for the value they place on their privacy. More and more privacy is going to be a marketing advantage that companies are going to assert on the Internet. What we want to have is competition to maintain and secure your privacy, as well.  – Jeff Brueggeman

McCall, though, said self-regulation is not a strong enough policy and that legislation with teeth is definitely possible.

“Self-regulation in the Internet context fails because there’s not really enough transparency about what’s going on and what harm is happening,” she said. “A lack of transparency allows companies to act in whatever manner it wants in the short term to make money. It also suffers from the problem in that it only allows for possible remedies after the fact. Having a real comprehensive regulatory system would allow companies to know what’s permissible and not permissible.”

Ratte said consumers do need assurances that their data will be securely protected, but the FTC has not taken a stance on comprehensive privacy policy legislation. Still, they do advocate that companies treat consumers fairly and honestly.

The FTC has come out strongly saying that the rules that apply at time of the collection of data have to continue to apply and if there’s a change. The company should go back to the customer and get opt-in consent.  – Kathryn D. Ratte

But McCall and Demooy both said vigorous legislation is possible, and if companies are acting in good faith and treating consumers with respect and responsibility, then they shouldn’t be worried about governmental regulations.

“Privacy policies have their place, but they aren’t really helping consumers,” Demooy said. “If they’re not working, let’s not bang our hammer against that stone. Let’s try to build something that does.”

-Colin Donohue,

IGF-USA panel: Supplying broadband access nationwide continues to be growing concern

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access_panel IGF_USA 09 copyPanelists articulated the challenges and opportunities associated with providing wide broadband Internet access to rural communities in the United States during a discussion at the Internet Governance Forum-USA Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C. The expert panel, consisting of people with various professional and personal backgrounds, discussed how access impacts their specific communities. The topics they covered included:

  • Access in rural USA with special focus on issues faced by Native American communities
  • Access issues in U.S. urban centers; perspectives on issues of technical build-out and demand
  • Roles of government in promoting access
  • Lessons learned from libraries and distance-learning initiatives in extending access

All panelists agreed that open Internet access remains vital to the steady, free flow of information, but complications remain about how to ensure people outside of urban areas can gain entrance to the online world. Here are the specific discussions the panelists had.

igfaccess2Brian Tagaban, representative of The Navajo Nation Telecommunications Regulatory Commission

Tagaban said Native Americans must foster their traditions and community within their reservations, but they end up losing members to urban centers when they have to find employment. He said providing broadband access would allow Native Americans to stay connected to their communities.

“We have 155 sites around the reservation,” he said, “but to connect all those sites with some sort of sustainable broadband is unsustainable for us, so we have to pick and choose what sites have access.”
Tagaban said that, after conferring with experts around the world, The Navajo Nation Telecommunications Regulatory Commission decided to build their own infrastructure. “We should start taking control of our information needs,” he said.

He said the commission has begun working on creating an infrastructure, but questions remain about how to make the set up sustainable. For example, Tagaban said the commission still needs to figure out who could manage the telecommunications set up. But he also wants to make sure that the infrastructure is limited in scope so that there’s room for communities to grow.

For now, though, the immediate concern is getting access to all Native Americans.

“As we go forward one of the things we know we’re going to have to deal with is some sort of broadband plan,” Tagaban said. “How are we doing to get this out to the small rural areas? How are we going to get people to adopt it. With 50 percent unemployment, it’s going to be hard. We’re toying with idea of free Internet.”

Raquel Noriega, director of strategic partnerships for Connected Nation Inc.

Connected Nation is a not-for-profit organization that has been investigating how the government and private sectors can push broadband to parts of society that are not adopting it quickly enough. Noriega said they’re attempting to bridge the domestic digital divide, so to speak, and she said there’s both a supply-side and demand-side challenge to their endeavor.

“By supply, I mean making broadband available to all American citizens,” she said. “We need infrastructure to take part in the information technology revolution that is taking place in front of us, and it’s more of a rural challenge. By demand-side challenge, we mean a focus on adoption. To really realize the benefits to the country and the economy, we don’t need just big pipes, we need people to use them.”

Connected Nation, which has existed since 2001, attempts to entice private investment into access issues.

“Clearly the best way to do that was to showcase there was more pent up demand that private investors may not have acknowledged in their research.”

Noriega said Connected Nation attempts to support rural communities with limited access to the Internet in two other key ways: using institutions that are already in place and providing benchmarks that locales can look toward.

In rural areas, these things are a lot more spread apart, and therefore one needs to engage what is already there—associations, hospitals, libraries, governments—because those already exist. We bring data and communication to local communities. We’re trying to empower them with a sense of where they are today and then they can benchmark themselves with other communities and start understanding what they need to do to catch up.  – Raquel Noriega

Nancy E. Weiss, general counsel for the Institute of Museum and Library Services

Weiss brought a little history and perspective to her address, claiming that a couple of key historical American figures would favor open access.

“If Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were around today,” Weiss said, “they would be at the forefront of public access computing and the Internet.”

Weiss said the continuing struggle of providing widespread Internet access is analogous to past governmental efforts to make libraries accessible to rural towns and communities.

“The whole idea was to develop a network of library services throughout the nation so people had access to information and education,” she said. “It shows the importance of ensuring that people have access.”

Weiss said libraries are still the sole source of free Internet access in 72 percent of urban communities, and 90 percent of all libraries provide training in computers, which she said is vitally important because “it’s one thing to have (the Internet), it’s another thing to know how to use it.”

Derrick L. Cogburn, associate professor of international relations and director of the Center for Research on Collaboratories and Technology Enhanced Learning Communities

Cogburn may not have articulated the idea of “collaboratories” first, but he’s certainly using them to their fullest potential in academia.

Cogburn has taught a global graduate seminar on disability and development the last 10 years that brings together students from universities in the United States and South Africa. He said the overarching question behind beginning the seminar was, “When you have all these knowledge resources that exist around the world, how do you get them to work together even if they’re not in the same place?”

The answer? Collaboratories.

The term is nothing new. Physical scientists have used collaboratories (a combination of collaboration and laboratories) for a couple of decades now to share research and innovations. But Cogburn said the need for these virtual environments is becoming more necessary in governmental, private and university sectors.

“We need to be able to work in global virtual teams,” he said. “We need to be able to work with people who are not physically in the same environment with you. We’re working in a multi-stakeholder environment.”

Cogburn said collaboratories are all about creating centers without walls, universities without boundaries. And the hope is that these kinds of set ups allow for greater access among people worldwide.

“We want to intersect with students in virtual space,” he said.

-Colin Donohue,

UN, U.S. representatives emphasize vital need for international dialogue about the future of the Internet

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1 open IGF_USA 09At the opening of the inaugural Internet Governance Forum-USA, representatives from the United Nations and the U.S. government commended the Internet Governance Forum for its support of multistakeholder discussions and expressed optimism that the group’s annual conferences will continue well into the future at the first ever IGF-USA.

Markus Kummer, the executive coordinator of the United Nations Secretariat for the Internet Governance Forum, and Larry Strickling, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Agency, expressed their gratitude to organizer Marilyn Cade and other IGF stakeholders for making a U.S. conference possible Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.

“I’m very impressed with the interest that has developed here not just in quantity but in quality,” Kummer said. “It’s an impressive gathering. This has turned into an enthusiastic endorsement of the IGF as a platform for dialogue.”

Kummer, briefly reviewed the history of the creation and execution of the UN-facilitated international IGF conferences, which have taken place previously in Athens, Rio de Janeiro and Hyderabad, India, and he said more regional IGF conventions are now taking place in cities and countries worldwide, proving the global importance of discussions regarding how the Internet is governed.

“There was a question of what kind of governance do you want?” Kummer said. “Do you want to stick to the traditional form of top-down governance or do you want a widely-distributed decision-making process? In essence it was a decision to continue the dialogue in a multistakeholder mold.”

The U.S. government is now even more accepting of allowing greater international access to the domain name system. Just this week, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce that affords the nonprofit ICANN greater independence and gives additional emphasis to the international oversight of the organization.

“I was pleased I was able to represent the United States on Wednesday to sign the historic document,” Strickling said.

Strickling, who helped form the new agreement, titled an “Affirmation of Commitments,” said the new set-up has been well received from within President Barack Obama’s administration and members of Congress.

Strickling said the agreement ensures accountability and transparency in ICANN and establishes mechanisms to address security. He said it should continue to increase the “free and unfettered flow of information and commerce” online.

“It contains the U.S. government’s strong endorsement of the rapid introduction of internationalized country codes,” Strickling said.

The ICANN Affirmation of Commitments follows through with the IGF’s mission of creating open and honest international dialogue. Representatives will gather for the group’s fourth global conference in November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The initial mandate agreed upon during the World Summit on the Information Society process stipulated that the IGF would meet yearly for five years, and the meeting in Egypt will be its fourth. Both Strickling and Kummer, though, said they hoped the IGF will be extended.

“There is obviously some need for this kind of gathering,” Kummer said.

Strickling added that President Obama supports holding more IGF conferences both worldwide and domestically.

“The U.S. government supports extending IGF past five years,” Strickling said. “The hope and expectation is that today’s event will be first of many U.S. IGFs that will shape priorities in the Internet governance arena and bring stakeholders together. The Obama administration looks forward to next month’s meeting in Egypt and commends all of you for gathering at today’s U.S. meeting.”

– Colin Donohue,