Global cooperation, not national interests, should drive evolution of Internet architecture, commission report says

Waterloo - Key properties of the Internet must be supported for it to succeed and these ‘invariants’ are an important framework to prevent nationally-driven policy from damaging the integrity of the Internet, according to a new working paper issued by the Global Commission on Internet Governance (GCIG).

On the Nature of the Internet is written by Leslie Daigle, who has been actively involved in shaping the Internet’s practical evolution for more than 20 years as a member and chair of the Internet Architecture Board and as the Internet Society’s first Chief Internet Technology Officer. She is a member of the GCIG’s Research Advisory Network. The GCIG is a two-year initiative launched by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and Chatham House. Chaired by former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, the commission will produce a comprehensive stand on the future of multi-stakeholder Internet governance.

“The Internet’s technical community ... have increasingly found themselves in heated discussion over how to address policy issues without ‘breaking’ the Internet,” says Daigle. “To make steps toward the ideal outcome (policy issue addressed and Internet’s growth unimpeded), a broader understanding of the nature of the Internet is needed, without requiring policy makers to be ready to argue technical points or vice versa.”

Daigle says “there are proposed (and some implemented) policies in the world that are meant to address very real concerns, but that negatively impact the Internet’s operation, growth and value as a platform for continued innovation.” Her new GCIG paper outlines several policy challenges, as well as alternative solutions to nationally-driven policy proposals, including the following:

Putting National Borders on the Internet: Nations are seeking to ensure their ability to enforce their laws and ensure their citizens are not exposed to foreign legal frameworks for inherently domestic activities. The more networks align on national boundaries and are perceived as national resources, the harder it is to ensure that the Internet remains ‘accessible,’ or that operation must be based on ‘collaboration,’ or ‘based on interoperability and mutual agreement.’ A different approach to ensuring the appropriate treatment of citizens’ rights is to work cooperatively to produce effective and enforced laws on appropriate behaviour — on both sides of borders.

Country-based IP Address Allocation: Countries wish to ensure they have ample access to appropriate levels of critical Internet resources. Rather than treating resources as a raw material or good that needs to be ‘owned,’ countries seeking to ensure that they have appropriate voice in Internal Protocol address allocation policy going forward could engage in the existing policy process to ensure their concerns are heard and understood. Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) policy discussions are public, and many of the RIRs are performing specific outreach to governments to identify issues and facilitate involvement.

Data Localization: An important issue is the exposure of citizens’ information (Internet usage, transactions, personal information and so on) to companies operating under other countries’ laws. An alternative is to look at the issue of data privacy outside the narrow scope of eavesdropping, to develop and enforce policies for the appropriate handling of data. Historically, the focus of service build-out has been on offering resiliency through redundancy and replication, leveraging availability of different networks to provide robustness. Requiring localized data for large services changes the emphasis to focus on consumers’ geographic locations, which may fragment the Internet.

“When there have been issues with the Internet or its use, changes have followed to address the problem. When the source of the issue is behaviour that is external to the Internet itself, forcing change on the Internet typically leads to fragmentation and damage,” says Daigle. “Therefore, focusing on what the problem is — difficult though it may be — is the best path to follow in order not to undermine the Internet. This often requires stepping back and focusing again on the actual outcome or behaviour that is in question, not the Internet technology that may be involved.”

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