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

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Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Review: Implications of Internet 2025 Scenarios

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Brief description:

Earlier in the day at IGF-USA, participants divided into three groups to discuss potential-future scenarios for the Internet in 2020. At this session, moderators briefed the plenary crowd on the discussions and they and other IGF-USA participants in the audience weighed in with their observations.

Details of the session:

Building upon an experiment that had succeeded at the previous year’s meeting, the Internet Governance Forum-USA presented a set of hypothetical situations, ranging between idyllic or dystopic depending on the preferences of those in attendance. Splitting off into three groups, panelists and members of the audience discussed the pros and cons of the end results of an imagined timeline, then moved on to figure out how best either to ensure or prevent said timeline.

As a part of the concluding ceremony of the IGF-USA, the lead moderators of every respective group presented their scenario to those caught unaware by a possible destiny and pointed out what the Internet community, along with governmental and business leaders, can do to in response to the potential future.

The first, Regionalization of the Internet, revolved around a prospective world in which individuals are either in or out on the Web, blocked off from those deemed to be outside of their own government’s sphere of influence. (You can find details from the earlier session that fed into this session here: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/predictions/igf_usa/igf_usa_2011_scenario_Internet_islands.xhtml.)

Andrew Mack, of AMGlobal Consulting and the session’s lead moderator, described it as, “interesting, but a bit depressing. We took the Angel of Death view on this.”

The idea of the Internet as an open highway, in this world, is replaced by one replete with tolls, as cross-regional access is limited, or in the worst cases, cut off entirely. Because of national security concerns, economic weakness, pressure from climate change and the massive new adoption rates of the “next billion” Internet users found in emerging markets, the Internet becomes a series of castles.

Some in the session actually thought the scenario fit the present more than an illusory future, and the more dire of descriptions could become the status quo within five years. To prevent it, governments were urged to be flexible and practice their own advice, industries were urged to increase their focus on the next billion users, who as of yet have no champion to advance their causes, and IGF was urged to resist the advance of ITU, the United Nation’s mass communications arm.

The second session, lead by Pablo Molina of the Georgetown Law Center, presented a more positive picture. “Youth Rising and Reigning” (You can find details from the earlier session that fed into this session here: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/predictions/igf_usa/igf_usa_2011_scenario_youth_rise.xhtml.)projected a world with the youth-led revolutions in the Middle East spreading to Europe and other disaffected masses taking up the call to utilize new Internet-based technologies to assert their own independence in light of continued economic and civil strife. And though many agreed that there’s a strong plausibility of “Youth Rising …” a key distinction that strikes at its heart was made.

“The defining factor is digital literacy and mastery, not age,” Molina told the audience, bringing to earth the notion that everyone younger than 30 is an Internet messiah, and bringing to light the fact that with the right competencies and skill, even the most elderly can have an influence on the Web. And despite the positive outlook of the scenario, an important distinction was made: Bad actors will always find ways to capitalize on new advances, and inadvertently, some innocents will be inconvenienced or, at worst, suffer as a result of those ill intentions.

JULY 18, 2011 - During an afternoon session of the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011, Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, shares what was discussed during the morning "Government Prevails" scenario.

To encourage, if not the revolutionary subtext of the hypothetical situation, the political and societal awareness of the youth, all means to promote participation in political discourse were advocated, be they through industry continuing its innovative advances, governments empowering instead of reigning in their citizens, or IGF supporting the participation of more and more stakeholders to ensure all voices are accounted for. And, of course, education, coming in the form of digital literacy, is a must for the youth to have the tools to, at most, incite a just revolution, and at the least, fight for their own causes in an effective way once the Internet further integrates itself within society.

The talkback that was perhaps the most pessimistic and grimly reminiscent of the most bleak of science fiction was “Government Prevails,” led by Steven DelBianco of NetChoice. (You can find details from the earlier session that fed into this session here: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/predictions/igf_usa/igf_usa_2011_scenario_government_prev.xhtml.)It depicts not victorious and noble governments deservedly beloved by its populace, but ones that, through a series of calamities, find themselves with the responsibility and power over maintaining surveillance over their entire citizenry.

Natural disasters of unimaginable magnitude and hacking sprees running rampant across the globe, in this scenario, coupled with rapid advancements in mobile and surveillance technologies, give the world’s governments both the mandates (since its presumed that they win the public trust after being the only entities capable of responding to such horrendous occurrences) and means to fulfill a vision reminiscent, albeit not quite as menacing, as that of George Orwell’s “1984.”

“I woke up this morning feeling fine, and now I’m afraid,” one member of the session said after hearing about the timeline.

Each of the elements of the prevailing government could be, as separate entities, taken as positives. Many responded warmly to the possibility of a more advanced version of London’s CCTV, scanning entire cities in the hopes of preventing crime, or smartphones that were not only mandated to keep tabs on your location at all times, but which could be used to turn in violators of strict anti-pollution legislation. But at the end of the day, it’s still a world in which the government is given the sole proprietorship of its people, with a seemingly omniscient awareness of their every little move.

To keep it from happening, the workshop decided, industries should obey the laws to avoid losing public trust, and they work together with the government to avoid the current philosophy of “government vs. private business interests.” Governments, obviously, shouldn’t grab the chance at such power and instead opt for a more open and decentralized Internet.

As for IGF? It should stick to its current duties and engage with all stakeholders, though such a future, while seemingly horrendous to Western minds, DelBianco mused, could be equally as appealing to those in countries such as Iran and China. This, in the end, illustrated one of the most evocative elements of the hypothetical exercise. Just as one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure, one man’s dystopia can be another man’s utopia.

– Morgan Little

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Internet Governance Forum-USA 2011 Potential-future scenario discussion: Government Prevails

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Brief description:

IGF participants broke into three different rooms to discuss three different, possible potential-future scenarios for the Internet in 2025. In this session, the brief description given to the discussants noted that “Government Prevails” scenario imagines a future affected by man-made and natural challenges and disasters – wars, civil strife, an aging world and interventionist governments. This scenario assumes that while “the ICT industry, media companies and NGOs” are the leading players on the Internet stage today [some people might disagree with this assumption], by 2025 governments and inter-governmental organizations will have come to rule the Internet as a result of actions taken to protect particular interests from negative exposure.

Details of the session:

A small group of Internet stakeholders from various sectors met to discuss the Government Prevails potential-future scenario at the Internet Governance Forum-USA 2011 at Georgetown University Law Center.

The audience-participation session was led by facilitators Pam Covington of Verisign, Walda Roseman of the Internet Society, Steve DelBianco of NetChoice and ex officio leader Marilyn Cade of ICT Strategies.

This scenario sets up a closed-off future for the Internet. You can read the one-page PDF used to launch this discussion here:

http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/predictions/igf_usa/Government_Prevails_Scenario.pdf

The potential future drivers of change people were asked to consider included:

  • Manmade and natural disasters push governments to exert more control over Internet resources.
  • Changes in the Domain Name System force intergovernmental organizations to impose new global regulatory regimes.
  • Networked image sensing through devices such as Kinect and GPS are used to identify and track people, with positive and negative effects, but the net result is a global surveillance culture.
  • Governments limit bandwidth for video conferencing when they find revenues for hotels, airlines and other travel-related economic entities in sharp decline.
  • Lawsuits and other developments cause governments to create blacklists of websites prohibited from Internet access.
  • Anonymity on the Internet is brought to an end as a response to viruses, worms and credit card fraud and user authentication is required.
  • Governments take every opportunity to coordinate and consolidate power under various mandates for global solutions and by 2025 governments and law enforcement are deeply embedded in all aspects of the Internet.

JULY 18, 2011 - Steve DelBianco of NetChoice was a participant during Government Prevails, one of the morning breakout sessions of the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011.

NetChoice Executive Director Steve DelBianco began the session by sharing the drivers of this future and what the Internet might look like in 2025.

“The scenario at its key is an attempt to be provocative about a potential future,” said DelBianco, who emphasized this session was supposed to search for what could be plausible and to develop opinions on the possible benefits and disadvantages of a future and what could be done to mitigate its impact.

“Is this the George Orwell scenario where it is a question of not whether but when?” Roseman said.

Although there was a list of questions the leaders intended to discuss, the session quickly turned into a running debate, bouncing from topic to topic as the participants introduced them. Two main themes quickly emerged.

The first was the conflict between security versus privacy.

Carl Szabo cited the situation in London, where hundreds of security cameras were added to city streets with the intention of reducing crime. The result was criminals adapting to the increased surveillance by wearing hooded sweatshirts.

“As we give away these rights and privileges for alleged increased security, it’s not necessarily going to return with security,” he said.

Slava Cherkasov, with the United Nations, brought up the recent case of Brooklyn boy Leiby Kletzky, who was allegedly abducted, murdered and dismembered by a stranger, Levi Aron. In that case, it was a security camera outside a dentist’s office that led to Aron’s arrest, confession and the recovery of the boy’s body within an hour of viewing the footage.

Judith Hellerstein, with the D.C. Internet Society, said that government use of data is acceptable when there is an understanding about privacy and intent.

“You also have to sort of figure out how governments are going to use that technology in hand,” she said.

In the scenario, an issue was introduced, based on reality, where pictures of protesting crowds were tagged, allowing for the identification of people at the scene of a potential crime.

Elon University student Ronda Ataalla expressed concern over limiting tagging in photographs, because it was a limit on expression.

But David McGuire of 463 Communications reminded the room that civil liberties traditionally don’t poll well.

“Free speech isn’t there to protect the speech we all like,” he said.

JULY 18, 2011 - Walda Roseman of the Internet Society shares her knowledge during Government Prevails, one of the morning breakout sessions of the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011.

DelBianco expanded the tagging issue to raise the issue of “vigilante justice,” people using debatably privacy-violating practices to identify people they consider wrong-doers, and brought up Senate Bill 242 in California, which would alter the way social networks create default privacy settings for users. This bill was narrowly defeated 19 to 17 June 2.

Chris Martin with the USCIB talked about how not all companies are interested in using their technology for ill or personal gains, listing Google and their withholding of the use of facial recognition technology to protect people’s privacy.

This subject is also related to the second main discussion topic: the government versus industry and the private sector.

Covington questioned Martin about whether he saw governments developing that same facial recognition technology, as described in the scenario, and using it to monitor citizens.

“Some,” was his reply, before adding that all Internet governance was about maximizing good and minimizing evil.

There was then a brief discussion about the Patriot Act and relinquishing civil liberties online in the circumstances of a national emergency. Who decides when the emergency has passed?

Szabo and others questioned if the government was even the right organization to take over in the event of a disaster.

“It’s much easier to say, ‘Let them deal with it so I don’t have to,’ but the question is, ‘Will they do it better?’” he said.

Cherkasov said not necessarily, mentioning that when Haiti was struck by the severe earthquake in January 2010, it took two weeks for government organizations to develop a database to search for missing people, but in Japan in March 2011, it took Google only 90 minutes to come up with the same technology. He then returned to the security camera situation, concluding that citizens were the first line of response and information in a disaster scenario.

“There will always be maybe an ebb and a flow but it’s the power of the people that will ultimately be able to create that balance,” Roseman said. “But it’s going to have to be a proactive effort to get and keep that balance.”

Roseman also said one of the benefits of the industrial and private sector was an ability to use funds more freely than the government, which, presumably, does operate on a limited budget.

“When you have governments and the private sector and industry working together, you generate a lot more money and opportunity to drive change,” she said.

McGuire, though, expressed concern that industry and the private sector have some misconceptions about the power of the Internet, believing that it is too powerful for any law or government to cut it down. He said many, including those in the area of Silicon Valley, Calif., think the Internet will always be able to circumvent policy.

Most session participants seemed to agree that the potential scenario was troubling.

“It makes me want to move to somewhere where there are more sheep than humans,” joked Covington.

But Brett Berlin, of George Mason University, said that the Internet, and the choices that are made about governing it, are ultimately people-driven decisions, reminding the rest of the room that technology works for people and not the other way around.

“If we are foolish enough to think that open Internet will fundamentally allow us to be better, we are making a mistake.”

– Rachel Southmayd

IGF-USA Scenario Discussion: Panelists, participants discuss future that puts Internet governance in hands of governments worldwide

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Facilitators Steve DelBianco, Walda Rosemann and Janice LeChance lead a discussion on a possible global government for the Internet.

Brief description:

IGF participants broke into three different rooms to discuss three different, possible potential-future scenarios for the Internet in 2020. In this session, the description given to the discussants was: Most of us assume that the ICT industry, media companies and NGOs will continue to be the leading players on the Internet stage, with governments playing just a supporting role. This scenario describes an alternate future, where citizens and industry worldwide demand that their governments take center stage to clean up an Internet that has become infected with dangerous content and criminal conduct.

Details of the session:

Panelists and gathered participants in a scenario session at IGF-USA 2010 in Washington, D.C., expressed discouragement about an Internet future that will quickly witness larger international governmental control that would ultimately remove power from the ICT industry, media companies and NGOs, who now continue to be the main controllers of the Internet.

“A scenario is not a prediction,” said panel moderator Steve DelBianco, the executive director of NetChoice Coalition. “It’s designed to be provocative, but plausible. It’s designed to challenge your assumptions.”

Some members of the audience were skeptical that the scenario, as a whole, is plausible, but all agreed that if it became reality, it would be a frightening prospect. (Read the full description of the scenario here: http://api.ning.com/files/KeHnmv3O-PHbKeh0tKl8RaAjWl7S9siFVN8YEM6lN0ImimLqwuq6B2UlGNDtHBKp7MwNPjexPsur3DKlypEhgQ__/GlobalGovernmentfortheInternet.pdf)

DelBianco presented three converging forces that serve as drivers for the scenario:

  • Consumers lose trust in online content and e-commerce.
  • Businesses can no longer tolerate losses from fraud and lawsuits.
  • Governments have successfully used electronic monitoring to thwart terrorist attacks.

As a result of those three forces, the scenario proposed the following about the Internet in 2020:

  • Governments cooperate to oversee online content and e-commerce to a greater degree than ever before
  • Government and businesses require biometric ID for online users
  • Online publishers are now liable for user-generated content and conduct
  • You need an “Online License” to use the Internet.

Janice Lachance, the chief executive officer of the Special Libraries Association and an invited panelist for the session, said she is anxious about the scenario’s potential to stem the openness of the Internet.

“I think this scenario gives us all a lot to think about,” Lachance said. “As someone who has an organization that’s concerned with the free flow of information and the access to information, I think that excessive government involvement raises red flags for us. It probably isn’t all bad, but if it’s certainly getting to the point that’s described here, I fear we will have a lot of consequences if you’re trying to do business.”

Walda Roseman, the founder of CompassRose International, said she thinks there’s a “rolling thunder” toward more governmental control because of the increasing security threats facing online users. A member of the audience agreed, saying the scenario is not so unlikely because it’s happening at lower levels already.

“All of these situations are going on, just not at a tipping point,” said the participant. “I don’t think this is necessarily avoidable. I think the focus should be on how to facilitate solutions, rather than to prevent something that currently exists.”

One possible solution, according to Roseman, is to rely on more and better intergovernmental cooperation. She said it’s necessary for countries to find ways to hold more cohesive and inclusive dialogues.

“Can we shape conclusions as a world as opposed to quickly avoid them?” Roseman said. “We’re seeing a lot of collaboration among governments, and the collaboration is not yet 100 percent on the cybersecurity issues, but it’s a different alliance there. We’re wanting intergovernmental organizations to make the policy decisions and a whole lot more than the policy decisions.”

Several audience members said they don’t foresee national governments getting together on the issue of Internet governance in the near future when they can’t even come to concrete conclusions on financial regulation or climate change, for example.

So if “some bizarre world government” isn’t created to handle the issue, as one participant said, then it will fall, most likely, to the local governmental level or the United Nations. Even then, there was some articulated concern that a governmental body simply can’t respond and react in a timely fashion to any problems that may arise.

“I’m concerned about notion of institutional competence,” said an audience member. “Does the government have the competence to run the Internet? I don’t think they have the expertise or the quickness to react.”

Markus Kummer, executive coordinator of the Internet Governance Forum, said that government shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for ineffective policies.

“We need to avoid having a black-and-white picture of all government is bad and all the other institutions are good,” Kummer said. “I think it’s a little more complex than that. How do we find a fruitful cooperation among all the actors?”

No matter who might claim Internet governance, panelists and participants expressed concerns about the future of anonymity, security, openness and freedom of information on the Internet. They said it’s up to the people who work together through IGF to continue having conversations that could lead to a positive future. “Citizens and business have lost patience, and they need solutions,” DelBianco said. “If we don’t deliver, entities that discuss may be seen as not fast enough to solve problems. We need to show progress. Lots of organizations will have to start delivering results so we don’t get the result we don’t want. We need to avoid having the Exxon Valdez of Internet security.”

Two U.S. government employees who were part of the audience for the scenario said the United States needs to look carefully and closely at how it views and values the Internet to figure out what it truly wants and needs. “This is moving so much faster than we expected,” said a U.S. State Department participant. “Are we going to lose by maybe trying to be idealistic and assuming that everyone else is going to take on our same model? Maybe we need to get together as U.S. citizens and ask, ‘What do we absolutely want for our Internet, what do we want as a country?’ and get really clear on that so that when we start making foreign policy decisions we’re not compromising our values.”

-Colin Donohue, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org