Elon University

A meeting of Internet actors

November 12, 2007
By Connie Book, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Communications, Elon University

Internet Actors Discussion PhotoRio de Janeiro, Brazil – The Goliaths and the Davids convened today in Brazil for the second meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The United Nations became, not an iconic collective of countries, but a group of people with accents and colors that scanned the globe. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) became a blonde with a Portuguese accent and a Black distinguished looking man with a French accent. These real people are decision-makers and bridge builders in global internet policy. Often sitting on the same panels and in the same room were groups like Computer Aid International, representing the unheard voices of the Internet, the Davids, the still unconnected populations and often found in developing nations. Together, the diversity of the their missions resonate the important discussions of internet policy and governance.

While the opening IGF meeting launched the event with a preview of the IGF’s work this past year to develop meaningful discussion around internet hot topics of access, critical resources, digital inclusion, openness and security; in the hallways the discussion was about moving the IGF organization forward to aggressively create meaningful global consensus. Each of the dynamic coalitions working to raise and discuss multi-stakeholder issues during the conference is being asked to keep careful notes and to bring these to the leaders of the IGF. These will hopefully be used to direct a series of outcomes. The meeting in Brazil is the second of five Internet Governance Forums being planned.

Today, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) sponsored an open forum on issues around security. Art Reilly of Cisco Systems told the audience that his company was committed to increasing the human power behind understanding internet security standards to improve commercial and private information exchange via the internet. “We want to make sure the people in these positions have the know-how and we offer 33 different internet security courses of study.” In recent years, the Cisco program has trained 5000 workers. Many of those have been in developing countries. The hope is that the training will engage internet website managers to have a better understanding how important basic website design that supports security standards is to building confidence and protection in global e-commerce transactions.

Director at the ITU session on security issues, Malcom Johnson reminded the audience that the cyber-criminal never sleeps and neither should government.

“When a cyber-criminal takes out the infrastructure and operations of local government, then we can consider this an act of war.” Johnson said. This type of cyber-crime is new to our military defense, but Johnson reminds us that the cyber-criminal will stay away and that we should be ready to defend ourselves.

Cyber-threats that the globe, especially the United States, is all too familiar with include spam, spyware, botnets, viruses and phishing.
“Eighty percent of all internet e-mail is spam,” Johnson told the audience, “Eighty percent. That’s a lot of spam slowing down our networks.”

The ITU seeks in 2007-2008 to better understand what risks moving spam over a telecommunications network imposes and how new technologies might be able to lead to better spam interference.

ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamdoun I. Touré cautioned the audience not to forget that, “Cyber-criminals have no ethics, but have deep technology skills, the governmental agencies need to stay one step ahead of them. That means we never sleep as well.”

In forum discussion one quickly realizes that some of the Goliaths of the internet are committed to helping the Davids. The ITU, in addition to addressing issues of cyber-crime, will also share news from its other divisions during the conference. One area of the ITU’s work with the IGF is to bring countries the good news of internet communication technologies’ (ICTs) ability to develop local initiatives. For example, one of the showcase countries is Malaysia where a new portal e-Homemakers allows stay-at-home mothers to have support for the locally launched e-based businesses in Malaysia. This is one example among the 600 projects in 64 countries that the ITU is sharing at this year’s internet governance forum.

In addition to empowering the Davids, the ITU is also working on the issue of multilingualism and domain names. Currently, all domain names in the world are commissioned by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. If domain names have some cultural and commercial value, and most agree that they do, then one can understand the Davids’ fight to have them reflect the unique, diverse languages of the world. The internationalized domain names project (IDN) is another area of priority and experimentation at the ITU. ICANN does not currently support non-Latin language scripts, such as Arabic and Chinese.

The United Nations sponsored IGF 2007 in Brazil is a chance to hear and see the Goliaths, like the ITU in action, and how they are working with the Davids to connect the world of the internet and move global policies forward.