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

Posts Tagged ‘U.S. State Department

Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Best Practices Forum ICTs for Disaster Response: Transforming Emergency Management

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Brief description:

Responders are driving innovative uses of ICTs to transform emergency planning, intermediation and management. The Internet and social networking are being harnessed by search and rescue teams to locate and bring vital support to victims. ICTs are reassuring loved ones, bringing help to the stranded, raising financial aid, managing communications for responders and supporting rebuilding. This workshop explored the role communications, Internet and Internet-based applications play in disaster response and recovery operations and steps that can be taken to ensure continuity of operations following a disaster. It also considered the connection between disaster preparedness and Internet governance.

Details of the session:

Information and communication technologies are connecting public safety officials, allowing the efficient coordination of response operations and keeping citizens informed in new ways every day. Responders are driving innovative uses of ICTs to transform emergency planning, intermediation and management.

The Internet and social networking are being harnessed by search and rescue teams to locate and bring vital support to victims. The new Internet-based tools, mobile applications and social media that are transforming disaster relief efforts and empowering citizens were the focus of this workshop at the IGF-USA conference July 18 in Washington, D.C.

This session was moderated by Kelly O’Keefe, director of the Washington office of Access Partnership, a consultancy in international telecommunications trade, regulation and licensing. O’Keefe has a global knowledge base in the topic as she is also a rapporteur for an International Telecommunication Union study group on emergency communications.

The session’s panelists included:

  • Joe Burton, counselor for technology and security policy, Communications and Information Policy, U.S. State Department
  • Jim Bugel, assistant vice president for public safety and homeland security for AT&T
  • Corbin Fields, Sparkrelief, a non-profit Internet-based organization empowering communities to provide disaster relief, http://sparkrelief.org/#
  • Roland A. LaPlante, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Afilias
  • Keith Robertory, manager, disaster services technology, American Red Cross
  • Tim Woods, technical leader, Cisco Systems

Kelly O’Keefe started the discussion by referring to recent global disasters, from the earthquake in Haiti to the earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan.  These events have demonstrated the importance not only for disaster response, but for relief communication, especially for developing countries, she said.

The biggest trend in disaster communication has been the migration toward Internet-based communications, said Tim Woods of Cisco.  The influence and increased use of technology has become more widespread, and increasingly people turn to the Internet, particularly social media, to receive updates on events.  Social media, in particular, allow users to send updates to followers immediately in real time.

But despite the widespread prevalence of technology and response services across the globe, the United States does not have the authority to simply step in and start setting up an information system in any country experiencing a disaster.  There are differences when responding to a disaster in another country that aren’t problems in the United States.

When the Red Cross responded to the earthquake in Haiti, Keith Robertory said, “We didn’t just say, ‘Hey, let’s get our suntan lotion and see what’s happening.’”

In addition to disseminating information to the public, the Red Cross had a responsibility to talk to the Haitian government and coordinate their needs among Red Cross organizations from other nations.

During such coordination efforts, U.S. organizations cannot make the same kinds of assumptions that they would usually make at home.  There are differences in technology cultures that must be taken into account when setting up a communications network during a disaster, said Robertory, of the American Red Cross.

Communicating during an emergency

There should be an interest in the swift restoration of communications infrastructures to save lives in a country experiencing a natural disaster, Joe Burton said.  There is a global trend toward catastrophic disasters.  In recent history, with the rise of the Internet and social networks, the Internet and text messaging are efficient uses of communications networks.

In terms of the big picture, there are more people with a basic phone, even a lower-end version, than there are who own PCs and TVs combined, said Vance Hedderel, of Afilias.  This bigger picture allows disaster response communications to understand how to reach people.  At this point in time, the phone is more effective than the Internet.  SMS data reach larger numbers of people.

Additionally, the goal of disaster communications should be to inform people experiencing the disaster first-hand.  “

A major gap currently exists where those people aren’t getting the necessary information and the outside world seems to know much more,” Hedderel said.  “Those issues become so paramount when there is little infrastructure in place.”

When sending out information over the Internet, Robertory said it is critical to hit all social media sites.  Since the emphasis is on getting information to the largest number of people possible, the disaster response teams have to reach their audiences across many platforms.

Establishing a network

From the service provider’s perspective, there is an emphasis on critical infrastructure during and after a catastrophic event, Woods said.  The networks to be used for information sharing should be reliant and resilient to disruption.  A capacity plan needs to be in place to handle an emergency.  What often happens is that networks become oversaturated immediately after a disaster, with users attempting to assure others of their safety or provide updates to the state of those affected.

Robertory likened establishing network capacity to a gym membership: “You hope that not everyone comes in to use the treadmills on the same day at the same time,” he said.

Although being able to handle the enlarged capacity that happens after a disaster event is important, a network is not sustainable if preparation for overcapacity becomes slow and expensive.  The goal is a balance of capitalism and altruism, life-saving and economy, to make money with the most efficient use of resources possible.

Despite the importance of developing effectively working technology systems, these will be largely useless if various agencies involved cannot work together.  Part of preparation is building relationships between agencies and determining who will communicate with whom.

“If you can build those relationships ahead of time, you have a better chance of getting through when disaster strikes,” Burton said.

Another side to preparedness involves having technology that works even in smaller situations, Robertory said.  Attempting to prepare a system for a big event from the start leaves too much room for errors when such a situation actually occurs.  If the system works for everyday emergencies, it allows time to test it and improve it for smaller upcoming events.

“It’s about being proactive, not reactive,” said Corbin Fields, of Sparkrelief.

– Carolyn VanBrocklin

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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

The opening of IGF-USA 2010

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In the opening ceremony of the IGF-USA 2010, Judith Aren, Pablo Molina, Markus Kummer and Ambassador Philip Verveer welcome all to the conference and begin with opening remarks.

Brief description:

The opening plenary session of the second IGF-USA featured general remarks from leaders Judith Aren and Pablo Molina of the host institution, the Georgetown University Law Center, and from global IGF leader Markus Kummer and Ambassador Philip Verveer of the U.S. State Department.

Details of the session:

One highlight of the opening session of IGF-USA 2010 came when Markus Kummer, the executive coordinator of the United Nations-facilitated global Internet Governance Forum, reviewed the creation of many national and regional IGF initiatives. In the past few years the movement has spread to now include eight regional initiatives, such as the East African IGF, and 15 national IGFs. (Click here for links to these: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/regional-and-national-igfs)

“It’s just proof that in many countries people feel the need of discussing the issues in multistakeholder situations,” Kummer said.

He emphasized the importance of discussing these issues nationally and regionally, not just globally.

“Global coordination cannot work if there is no coordination on the national level,” Kummer said. “This is particularly true in developing countries where quite often the Internet has developed outside the sphere of governance. It is particularly important that these initiatives happen in developing countries so they realize the importance of understanding the discussions with these multistakeholders.”

Pablo Molina, chief information officer at Georgetown University Law Center, said such Internet governance talks should continue, especially in the United States. He noted that one in every five U.S. university students has taken a class online.

“It was once said that all that’s needed to have a university is a library and a printing press.” Molina said. “I would argue that today, all is needed is the Internet and a savvy community of faculty, staff and students.”

The IGF is a place where businesses, civil society, government, academia, technologists and researchers can discuss current topics and issues and the positive evolution of the Internet. Kummer called it a “soft” governance approach, offering a way for people learn from each other how best to improve working with the Internet, tackling problems not through treaties, but through best practices.

Marilyn Cade (At podium) opens the day by introducing some of the panelists.

“The Internet itself obviously is deployable for both positive and negative purposes,” said Ambassador Philip Verveer of the U.S. State Department. “The positive is on exhibit here in the program today.”

Verveer said the positives of the Internet include the spread of knowledge and efficiency and the challenges include threats to cybersecurity and to children online.

“The IGF has been criticized for not producing concrete results, as a UN meeting normally produces some sort of resolution, however you usually pay a price for getting there,” Kummer said. “[In the IGF] we focus more on the substance, and by not having a negotiating framework, it allows for free dialogue.”

The United Nations will be deciding later this year whether to extend the mandate for meetings of the global IGF past the initial goal of having five annual sessions. “I am very optimistic the UN is going to extend the IGF and hopefully without any changes,” Verveer said.

Kummer said the majority of the people who have been involved in the IGF process to this point have expressed a desire to keep it as a non-negotiating platform, while others want to change the parameters, maybe to move toward some form of negotiating platform. Some people have said that if there are not major changes in the way it operates the IGF should not continue. The UN may make some suggestions about the future direction of IGF if it is to be continued past the fifth meeting, which takes place in September, 2010, in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“The question is will it be a simple ‘yes,’ or will it be a ‘yes’ but with certain conditions attached,” Kummer said.

-Rebecca Smith and Sam Calvert, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org