Elon University

Core Internet Values Workshop

IGF Egypt 2009 Logo

Peter suggests setting forth a set of ’10 Commandments’

Workshop description: What makes the Internet what it is? What is happening to its core values as it evolves? What should be preserved and what changes are inevitable? The planners of this session quoted Internet protocol co-inventor Vint Cerf, in the description of this session: “The remarkable success of the Internet can be traced to a few simple network principles – end-to-end design, layered architecture, and open standards.” They noted that the Internet’s underlying principles are threatened when new policies are proposed with inadequate understanding of the core values.

Panelists and discussion leaders included: Daniel Dardailler, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C); Alun Michael, member of Parliament, United Kingdom; Nathaniel James, director of OneWebDay; Ian Peter, co-coordinator, Internet Governance Caucus; Lynn St. Amour, president/CEO, Internet Society; Markus Kummer, executive director of IGF; Alejandro Pisanty, longtime ICANN and Internet Society leader, National Autonomous University of Mexico.

The Internet’s core principles
November 17, 2009 – Write a new 10 Commandments, Peter proposed, and write them on a tablet PC on Mount Sinai.

The prophet is Internet historian Ian Peter, the place is the Internet Governance Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, a few kilometers from Mount Sinai. And who is the inspiration for the new set of commandments?

The answer: engineers and computer science guys who dreamed up the Internet back in the 1960s, building it through an amazingly open and collaborative effort that continues functioning to this day, scaling in size from a handful of men to now perhaps tens of thousands of people from around the globe.

The Biblical references Peter playfully added to make his point helped to sell it. When he asked if anyone would be interested in formally documenting the principles of the Internet ethos, Internet ecosystem or whatever one might call it, hands shot up all around the room.

At a time in which the battle for control over information is beginning to reach its peak and there’s a danger that important principles might be downgraded or even disappear, the idea of having a workshop to discuss the Internet’s core principles was truly inspired.

Internet Society president and CEO Lynn St. Amour moderated the session and led it off with a scene-setting focus statement:

“The Internet is obviously much more than a technology,” she said. “It’s origin was not a single act of invention but very much an act of cooperation and collaboration. Forty years ago when history was ripe for change it was a time for challenging traditional models and practices, and – fortunately – the right people at the right places at the right time took up that challenge and established the processes, practices and ideals that underlie the Internet in addition to the technical developments. We have called this the Internet model. It’s a common set of operating values and also endorses some architectural principles. But the operating values such as open standards, freely accessible processes, transparent governance, bottom-up processes, active community involvement – those principles and values are shared among the key organizations that are central to the Internet’s development and ongoing evolution. That whole set of ideals we call the Internet ecosystem.”

St. Amour showed an Internet Society document made to depict the Internet Ecosystem. A PDF of the document is available on this site.

An all-star lineup of folks who have been involved at the top echelon of the organizations that arose out of the principles established in the 1960s were on hand to speak on this panel, representing organizations such as the Internet Society, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Dardailler Speaking IGF 2009 Daniel Dardailler of W3C said the Internet community values its shared principles for technology and for how people work together. “We want the Internet to be an enabler, so more people can enjoy the benefits we see,” he said. “There are principles of operations and with the multistakeholder approach all participate.”

He began to list key characteristics. “Computer science principles require that layers can work separately. The Web sits on top of the Internet. This separation is important. Everything has to be extensible. You want only one root – you want unique ID – we need to keep one root. The Web is putting data in the pipe and we don’t want the data to go faster through some sites without our knowledge. Common to Internet technology is that we are open-standards and open-source. Everyone should be able to test the system with their own platform. We want our technologies to be royalty-free. For the Web it’s important. We are at the top of the stack – there will be more things later on but right now we are the interface. Everyone needs to have access to the system. It has to be visible to any type of device. Separation of content from implementation is paramount. Websites should have metadata.

“The principle that runs throughout all of what I have said is the principle of CHOICE. I buy a computer in France, I arrive in Egypt, in my hotel I get WiFi and I can use it. We don’t want to go back to a point where we have incompatibility. The Internet has been on the forefront in regard to allowing people to participate in the design of communication.”

Alun Michael, a member of the UK Parliament and active Internet policy maker said there is a need to be careful to grasp what is important but not to squeeze too hard. “We need to grasp three nettles,” he explained. “First we’re dealing with a future not yet conceived. Management techniques of industry, government, the international community are too slow to keep up with changes on the Internet. Second, the core values are the technical values and they affect the whole of society and not just engineers. Cities don’t often turn out as their architects intended. It’s about the people. We also need to not just listen to young people we need to hand it over to young people. They talk about the issues in a completely different way and there’s a real and powerful opportunity to use that talent and engagement in a positive way. Third, the IGF process needs to communicate to legislators who do not take an interest in this process in any way.

Policymakers are overwhelmed by issues like cybersecurity. We need a proportionate response. My favorite quotation about legislation comes from 1890s: ‘Laws rarely prevent what they forbid.’ We have the opportunity for much better governance in the real-world sense. Do proposals to fix the problem threaten the core values of the Internet? We have to prove that a cooperative approach works. It depends on the right people at the right times do something about it. We have to deliver solutions instead of relying on the last refuge of the policymaker which is to legislate and regulate.”

James Speaking IGF 2009 Nathan James, director of OneWebDay, began by bringing up the importance of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

“This is a beautiful expression of one of the most sacred of human rights,” he said. “I would argue that the real value of the Internet is its human network of users and that a discussion of core Internet values must begin with the consideration of the human values of its users. Do users value the end-to-end principle, open innovation systems, a secure root, the most modern version of IP? If they do, most of them don’t know it. Instead, users value the Internet as an expression of their deeper values and aspirations: expression, collaboration, dissent, freedom, democracy, family, friendship, community, opportunity, justice, even fun.”

James said the inner workings of the Internet and its governance are opaque to the vast majority of its users and aspiring users. “ It is also ironic,” he said, “that we prize the innovation space the Internet provides, its low barriers to entry, yet the barriers to governance are so high, starting with awareness. Where will the new ideas come from? Where are the strategies for the grassroots engagement that democracy requires? It has to begin with framing Internet controversies, be they over privacy and identity, security, fair representation in the domain system, within the context of deeper human values. It must begin by reaching out to other sectors, such as human rights, social services and health, and helping them understand how Internet governance decisions impact the realization of their core values.

Kummer Speaking IGF 2009Markus Kummer, executive director of the Internet Governance Forum, noted that the IGF is less of a technocratic gathering than some are. “This kind of gathering brings in people who don’t normally go to Internet-specialized meetings,” he said. “It has this mix of technical and societal questions. I have a government background. Governments work differently than the Internet community. They are based on hierarchies and pyramids. The Internet is the opposite. It is a borderless bottom-up network of networks. It is about collaboration, not about giving orders to subordinates who follow those orders it is about collaborative efforts.”

Kummer said the IGF is an attempt to bring these two cultures together. “The Internet undermines traditional ways of doing things. In traditional government ways of doing things, it is a structured way of operating. You cannot control the Internet. You have to let it happen. It is a tremendous tool of empowerment.”

He said people in governments are struggling to make better use of the Internet in their own structures. “Deep down the Internet undermines traditional structures,” he pointed out. “The Internet core values go deeper than just the technological principles. Article 19 is an important part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and some would say it’s the most important article, but there’s also Article 29 which gives certain limitations and question of responsibility. The Universal Declaration was drafted long before Internet was invented. Then it was relatively to combine the two principles, the principle of freedom of expression across borders and at the same time to have responsibilities to the a society and the values of the society. In a borderless world it gets much more complicated. I think this is something you see in all of the issues we discuss, be it copyright, security, freedom of expression – it is the challenge of marrying the two, the principle of national sovereignty with the borderless world of the Internet. We’re struggling. We don’t have the answers. But we think it is important to discuss these issues. The IGF, in its functioning, has adopted the principles of the Internet. Being collaborative, being open, being transparent. We value that the intelligence is at the edges.”

Pisanty Speaking IGF 2009Alejandro Pisanty, a longtime leader in both the Internet Society and ICANN, said he sees core values under threat. “The Internet was conceived as a means of communication between computers – algorithmic,” he said, describing that in the early years of computing nobody knew this would all scale up to be a network of billions of users. “Standards-developing organizations did not imagine this was serious. No network is a simple network. Computer-processing power was limited; you had to make things extra-simple to communicate. There was a flat hierarchy. The RFC – Request for Comments – 760 has several interesting phrases and statements including, ‘Be liberal with what you receive and conservative with what you send.’ This later became part of RFC 1855 on netiquette. It translates to ethics of openness and tolerance of communication.”

Pisanty said these values are in danger. “They can be threatened. It can start with things that come from the corporate world, like network neutrality discussions, which have to be defined more precisely. It basically means an Internet service provider should not privilege their own products being sent over the network. All packets are equal. It can come from the desire to bring back the owned-network model – the traditional model of a telecommunications company that owns the network, owns the cables, owns the switching equipment and even used to own the telephone, the user’s terminal. Going back to that model – people try to make this happen over and over again. One of the tricks we must not fall for is that everything that is called ‘new’ might actually be a personification of the old; everything that is called ‘change’ might actually be be change backwards. We have to look very carefully from the Internet point of view that we really continue with innovation, openness, bridging the digital divide, allowing smaller companies and smaller civil society organizations to operated and not let these be crushed by constraints that are built into the technology or by other means, what Larry Lessig fundamentally refers to as a combination of code and law.

Peter Speaking IGF 2009Peter asked the people in the room why anyone should bother to have core values. He said researchers have proposed that communications mediums are tools for the development of humankind. “As a tool for our development the Internet is an extraordinarily powerful one and an extraordinarily useful one,” he said. “In 1988 Brian Carpenter said the principle of constant change is probably the only thing that will continue to change indefinitely. In the middle of all of this change, what is it that we need to protect? It’s a great task for us to determine what the core of it is that makes it so exciting.”

He listed some of the core values he treasures – his selected list of possibilities for his proposed 10 Commandments, listed here with some of his elaboration:

  • Independence of applications
  • New applications can be added anytime that’s a core value
  • Permissionless innovation
  • Open standards – openness and we can call that vendor-neutral I can use any computer, any device, I can send stuff to my mobile phone
  • Accessible and globally inclusive – anyone can use it
  • User choice, I can choose what applications I use and where I go to with them
  • Ease of use, I can use it in my language, I can use it in a device I’m familiar with; universality and transboundary…
  • Freedom of expression – Human network of users – a great tool for human development…
  • The ability to change rapidly
  • Trustworthy and reliable is one we have to work on; it’s got to be a core value.

Upon completing his list, he came up with the clever twist. “Quite coincidentally,” he said, “there are 10 of these. Now here we are in the shadows of Mount Sinai, if we had good remote communication, we could go up there and we could write this on a tablet of stone… or maybe a tablet PC.

“I don’t think is a job for any one organization. I would like us in the IGF to be involved in bringing something forward. We need to find some way for all sorts of people who hold these beliefs quite dearly to express this and get this into a document.”

– Senior segment producer, Janna Anderson
Additional reporting by Andie Diemer, Eugene Daniel,
Shelley Russell, Drew Smith and Dan Anderson

Imagining the Internet report on IGF-Egypt 2009 home>

Internet Governance Forum official site>