Session description: The Internet model is open, transparent and collaborative and relies on processes and products that are local, bottom-up and accessible to users around the world. Can such founding principles and values continue to be defined by all in the same manner? Will they continue to be observed as engineers, intermediaries (including businesses and governments that provide Internet access and services) and policy makers address current and future challenges and opportunities? One of the points of this gathering is to discuss the various definitions of the values and principles that should be considered as the physical and political architecture of the Internet evolve. Another opportunity for this group is to find the common ground so different positions of stakeholders might be reconciled to commit to evolving common values. Any open, spirited discussion of values has meaning.
Young voices point
September 16, 2010 - Sivasubramanian Muthusamy of the Internet Society in Chennai, India, led the organization of this meeting of interested parties investigating the formation of a Dynamic Coalition on Core Values of the Internet. As Muthusamy was not in Vilnius for IGF, Alejandro Pisanty of Mexico, also a longtime Internet Society leader, was session moderator.
Among the organizing participants leading the discussion were Sebastian Bachollet, Internet Society and ICANN activist from France, Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the board of directors of ICANN, Daniel Dardailler of the World Wide Web Consortium, Glenn Scott and Samantha Baranowski of the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University. Markus Kummer, leader of the IGF Secretariat, was on hand to clarify the requirements necessary for a group to qualify as a dynamic coalition with ties to the Internet Governance Forum processes.
This is the third
Kummer said with a smile that “some of them are more dynamic than others,” and noted that these groups are required to do more than simply meet annually at the global IGF in order to be active.
“We offer a meeting room to each Dynamic Coalition [at the global IGF meetings] provided they have some activity between the meetings, provided they have reports of their activities,” he said. “We cannot offer any structured support, it is up to the volunteers. Two of the Dynamic Coalitions – on climate change and accessibility for people with disabilities – are supported by the ITU, so they have some institutional support, whereas the others live on the enthusiasm and the drive of their respective members.”
Pisanty noted that this September 2010 gathering was the third global meeting within a year on the topic. The first meeting to discuss core values was led by Internet Society members and others at the November 2009 global IGF in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, and a second meeting took place in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April of 2010 at the global World Wide Web conference.
Foundational organizations' participation urged
Bachollet said he’d like to see an expression of commitment by stakeholders who support the principles this coalition would be established to address. “Stakeholders, but also organizations who take part in this Internet area where we need to share some core values,” he said. “If they agree to work on that – in no order, ICANN, ISOC and W3C and a whole lot of others will be necessary to be involved in this work, and I hope that we will be able to have this Dynamic Coalition working and coming back next year at the next stage.”
Dengate Thrush said principles should be considered and maintained. “A forum where the core values of the Internet are discussed and refreshed is a great deal of assistance,” he said. “My worry is that there is very little talk about governance, so I would hope the relevance of these principles when carried in to governance topics would be something that people focus on.”
Social and economic aspects of core values take center stage
Dardailler said addressing the “technical aspect” of the Internet and Internet governance should not be the point of a Dynamic Coalition on core values.
“We have to think in terms of what would happen if suddenly the W3C community crashed in a plane and we have to be replaced,” he said. “All of us, the staff and the engineers working on standards, what are the documents we would have to leave to people explaining what are the core values to go from. When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web he didn't have to ask the IETF or the Internet Society for permission to build it. It was a core value of the Internet that anybody could build anything on top of it. That’s a real important principle.
“The Web has the same capability. You can build any application you want on top of it. We expect on top of the Semantic Web there will be many more applications, using government data, and things like that. So there is this property of being sort of recursively open. Anybody can use this technology and succeed. These are values we have to sort out, and they are related to openness in the standardization process, to participation, and to the absolute requirement of interoperability for all the devices.”
Vittorio Bertola, of the European Chapters Coordinating Council of the Internet Society, said when you start talking about values it is difficult to find common ground. “It is easy to have a founding group that shares the values and knows what they want to say, and they want to protect these values in some manner,” he said. “It’s harder when you go out and involve more people and then you discover people have other views and things become more difficult. That is why the Internet Bill of Rights has been taking a lot of time.
“At the technical level it might be easier to agree on common architectural values of the Internet, and there are some RFCs that have been out for 15 years, writing them. People are now recognizing that it also comes up at the social and political level, because in the end it can effect freedom of expression, it can effect your ability to choose the source of your news, and so in the end if the Internet is not neutral, the organization, the self-organization from the bottom can be stopped. You will have to understand on what level you will want to bring this coalition – at the economic level the political level and so on.”
Parallels drawn to DC on Internet Rights and Principles
Max Senges, a policy strategist for Google in Berlin, said another Dynamic Coalition – on Internet Rights and Principles – is closely related to the work being proposed in the Core Values realm. “It takes a human rights framework and then adds Internet principles, which we actually had a long discussion whether to call ‘values’ or ‘principles,’” he said, inviting people to study the work that the coalition has done after merging with the Dynamic Coalition for a Bill of Rights for the Internet.
“There is a document that defines or transposes human rights into the online context and there is a second section that talks about core principles, and I am sure the expertise in this coalition will be very welcome as a contribution to our work. There seems to be an urgent need for a coalition that deals with values and principles. I hope that we find good ways to complement each other.”
Wolfgang Benedek of the University of Graz, another participant in the DC on Rights and Principles, said copies of the group’s draft charter of human rights and principles on the Internet are available, noting that they include core values as digital inclusion, diversity, equality, sustainability and participation.
“The question is where do you end?” he asked. “What is a core principle and what is just a principle? Network neutrality. Is it a core principle? Or, for example, free and open software. Is it a core principle or just a principle? This is something that such a coalition might have to clarify. We would benefit from the work of this colition if it is able to deepen the issue of core principles. This is a common basis for everyone who is part of the information society.
Benedek suggested that the DC on Core Values might want to consider producing a list of core principles with a commentary or some other concrete product.
A call for clearer language to explain value of values and principles
Scott, and student researchers Baranowski and Kirsten Bennett of the Imagining the Internet Center pointed out that while efforts of participants in IGF, W3C, One Web Day and other efforts are making some progress in educating the general public, most people who use the Internet don’t understand or follow the politics or economic issues.
Baranowski said openness is a key value for a positive future, warning against "bottlenecks and other burdens that would interfere with innovation and openness that is so important, especially to the younger generation."
Bennett observed that young people, especially, are not aware of how endangered the openness enjoyed by today’s Internet users might be. She said they do not understand the language used to describe the political and economic challenges being posed today.
“Net neutrality doesn’t make sense to the younger generation,” Bennett said, “and these are the people who are going to be effecting these core Internet values in this changing document. Putting it plainly so that younger people can understand what net neutrality is, what open access to applications means for them is important. It doesn’t make sense right now to those outside of this discussion – the users and those who are actually going to be implementing some of the things we are talking about right now. It has to be simplified and put in terms everybody can understand, so it means something to people outside of this room.”
Baranowski added that most Internet users do not understand or consider the values behind the founding principles that made the Internet so open. They aren't being engaged enough in participating in decisions about their future. “After interviewing nearly 60 people at this conference, one thing emerging as an issue at IGF is there isn’t much representation of Internet users,” she said. “And if users can’t understand the issues we’re bringing up, I’m curious how the grassroots engagement that democracy requires is going to happen. How can we pass this information along? A large barrier to what we are doing is awareness. We have to explain exactly what’s going on in simpler terms.”
Discussion of net neutrality illustrates complexities of values
Pisanty noted that "openness" is a common theme of all values discussions. He asked the young people at the table if they understand net neutrality and to describe how they understand it, to take a look at the various ways in which one seemingly common value can be defined. A discussion ensued in which several young people came up with opposing concepts.
Mireille Raad, a young participant in the discussion from Lebanon, said net neutrality is a principle that allows free speech. “In the Middle East we have many topics, especially related to sexuality, LGBT rights, political stuff, that the only space to discuss and find information about them is the Internet,” she said. “It is the only place where we can breathe. It is illegal in my country to be gay and to express this. Without net neutrality and without the Net you will not be able to form various groups and communities to resist the government. It is very important and depends in which part of the world you are.
“Net neutrality is about people being able to access the Internet without having to control what they are saying and with the ability to maintain the privacy of their identity. The government should not have the right to track my international activity and link it back to my physical personality. I should have the option to be anonymous on the Web.”
Another young participant, Karolis Jachimavicius, an employee of the Lithuanian news agency ELTA, disagreed, saying, “One of the main principles of democracy is ensuring the private property is safe, and when you are anonymous it is much more difficult for law enforcement to ensure that property is protected. We should get a global I.D. system. It would be easier to catch thieves and protect people from stalking, protect money from theft.”
Raad replied, “I consider it a nightmare, personally, because you are creating a lot of data and you are giving it to governments and to other people who can have access to those systems illegally - for example, hackers - so you are not only creating this data, you are assuming that governments are good and that no other criminals, partisan governments will access this information and you are building a big data mine for marketing companies to track your behavior. It will be hell if it is built. You should live in the Middle East for like five days and you will change your mind.”
Felix Samakande, a young participant from DiploFoundation, later said, “From my digital forensics background, I know we are being profiled left, right and center without knowing. So whether it is going to be done in the open or continue to be done in the way it is being done is neither here nor here. We might as well. If it means using identities to log on, let’s do so, so that everyone is in the open. We are not really enjoying anonymity.”
People say various values should be reflected, protected by the Internet
Pisanty noted how important these conflicting views are in the discussion of core values – how different people have different views, saying different people hold varied views of the values they think “should be reflected or protected by the Internet.”
Internet Society ambassador Charles Gaye pointed out that the discussion of net neutrality prompted a debate of security, freedom of expression and freedom of connection. “There are many topics we are dealing with at the same time,” he said. “Can we just address one and find a solution? There are too many.”
Måns Adler, of Bambuser.com in Sweden, said he works as a technology professional, and he brought up the fact that it isn’t easy for the builders of Web and Internet services and applications to think ahead and embed ideals in what they do from day to day.
“I handle all the users who get angry when things don’t work the way they want to work,” he said. “Users are not present enough in the discussions we have during IGF. I also see very few of the entrepreneurs who have to answer 50 questions a day. I don’t see Mark Zuckerberg [Facebook founder] sitting back thinking five years ago how privacy policies would arise, and if he made those decisions earlier maybe he wouldn’t have the problems he’s had the last couple of years.
“Take into consideration that most services are small companies with five to 15 employees. We have a quarter of a million users who cover 170 countries. We have no way of ensuring that freedom of speech is kept a right. There are more languages spoken on our website every day. There are a lot of things that in the practical world do not look as beautiful as they might sound here sometimes – just a view of it.”
The moderator handling comments that were being sent in during the session from remote participants from around the globe said one shared that, “The common man is affected when there is censorship and filtering. What would happen to all stakeholders if the free Internet regressed back to the electronic equivalent of a control like postal services or managed telephone service or cable TV?”
Moving forward with continuation of the group's efforts
Pisanty said the spirited debate over definitions of concepts being discussed, the regional and political differences over best approaches and concerns over how stakeholders can participate in the discussion constituted an informative exchange.
“We needed the discussion in order to see the depth of the disagreement that can exist about values on the Internet,” he said. “We would run into a lot of trouble if we try to build this [Dynamic Coalition on core values of the Internet] around any given set. We would have to put forward what have been mentioned as core values, like openness, interoperability and end-to-end, these very basic, original values and see the match or mismatch with the Human Rights Dynamic Coalition – engage in that dialogue.
“A discussion of even one word in the list of core values of the Internet – like ‘openness’ – creates such a lively debate that we perceive the first step that has to be taken is to create a discussion space to build up an understanding of the issues.”
Bachollet agreed, and he asked that people willing to participate in this coalition should contact him. Pisanty said the group should set up a wiki, website, blog or some other form of online forum to begin with exploring the issue of openness. Raad agreed to assist with setting up the site.
“We will say there is no conclusion here because the differences are too stark," Pisanty said, "but we hope others will follow up and we go back to the core and branch up and see what the debates are.”
The UN's video recording of the meeting can be found at this link:
The UN's official transcript of the meeting can be found at this link:
- Video recorded from a remote location, captured