I had the pleasure of attending the IGF-USA 2015. The event saw over 300 participants gather to discuss a broad array of Internet Governance and policy topics. From the WSIS+10 Process to policy issues relevant to the Internet of Things, from the IANA transition to cyberbullying and the politics of innovation, the IGF-USA program had something in store for newcomers to Internet Governance and veterans, alike.
The day’s schedule had an excellent flow – testament to the experience and expertise of the IGF-USA multistakeholder advisory planning committee. Following welcoming remarks from the organizers, Assistant Secretary of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration Larry Strickling gave a keynote address during which he explained the strength and the appropriateness of the multistakeholder approach to policy development for Internet-related issues. Reaffirming that the NTIA supports multistakeholderism in practice and in theory, Strickling noted that the Administration would soon be engaging in a series of multistakeholder policy consultations, including on privacy best practices for the private and commercial use of drones.
Internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Steve Crocker then took the stage for a keynote conversation with POLITICO technology reporter Nancy Scola. To the delight of the audience, Crocker opened with an anecdote about meeting Cerf in high school German class, in the 1950s. The two young men then formed an extracurricular math club with their high school colleagues.
Cerf and Crocker covered a number of different topics broad and finite with Scola – from the scalability of the Internet’s architecture, to IPv6 adoption, to details around ICANN’s new gTLD program – before welcoming questions from the audience.
Keynote remarks were also provided by Julie Zoller, Deputy Coordinator, International Communications and Information Policy, US Department of State; Kathy Brown, President and CEO of the Internet Society; and Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, Senior Coordinator for International Information Technology Diplomacy. Their remarks touched upon multilateral institutions and multistakeholder, collaborative approaches to Internet Governance, the importance of the Internet Governance Forum and its mandate renewal, and the IANA stewardship transition and ICANN accountability.
The IGF-USA 2015 schedule also featured eight panel sessions, each treating a distinct and timely Internet policy topic. But for the limitations of physics I would have attended them all. Fortunately for us the Internet Society managed to record the proceedings and has made them available on its dedicated Livestream channel.
I attended the panel sessions Digital Trade Agreements as a Strategy for Internet Governance, which is my own area of personal interest, and Maintaining Trust Online: Cybersecurity, Encryption, Backdoors, and Privacy, a complex and multifaceted Internet policy area which I have yet to fully explore.
This latter panel, moderated by Jon Peha from Carnegie Mellon University, canvassed the challenge of balancing the benefits and pitfalls of encryption. Problems in this policy area were explored and solutions discussed from a diversity of perspectives, including law enforcement and security engineering. On encryption and the secure handling of sensitive information, for example, Eric Burger from Georgetown University described approaches taken to safely sharing health records across state lines for research purposes, using “multiparty computation” and “zero-knowledge computation.”
In a different realm of Internet policy, the panel on Internet Governance and trade, moderated by Edward Alden from the Council on Foreign Relations, focused on the inclusion of Internet-related provisions in plurilateral trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). One area that received particular focus from the panelists was on the free flow of information across borders. These provisions usually appear in the E-Commerce chapters of trade agreements, and would effectively prohibit a country from requiring that data be “localized” within its borders, requiring the free flow of information to and from that country, subject, however, to certain exceptions. This area raises questions of sovereignty, naturally, and whether exceptions to this provision for national privacy laws would be respected or at least defined.
Having sailed through a panoply of different Internet-related debates, insights, anecdotes, and illustrations throughout the day, I had anticipated being tired by the time the closing plenaries rolled around. But I was in fact eager to hear more, and the plenary session on Connecting the Next Billion was an excellent way to round out the substantive discussions of the day.
The “mother” IGF (as it was described during the panel), at the United Nations, has been developing deeper ties with national and regional IGF initiatives through intersessional work. One of the flagship initiatives of this intersessional work is Policy Options for Connecting the Next Billion, an activity that seeks to solicit input from the global Internet community on ways to bring the next billion online, alleviating the digital divide. National and regional IGF initiatives in particular were invited to contribute to this intersessional work by feeding their respective discussions on the topic into the global IGF, for discussion at the IGF2015 in November this year.
The IGF-USA will make an excellent contribution to the IGF’s intersessional work through its plenary panel. During this panel, a host of experts discussed their respective efforts both in terms of hands-on projects (for example, ISOC’s Wireless for Communities project, or Comcast’s Internet Essentials program) and regulatory reform initiatives (for example, by the Alliance for Affordable Internet). All in all, this plenary session was an excellent display of the various efforts undertaken by different stakeholders to achieve a common goal, on a global basis.
Kudos to the organizers of the IGF-USA 2015 and its various speakers and volunteers. It was an excellent event – informative, enlightening, and of course, a great opportunity to connect with friends and colleagues on how to carry our shared goals forward for promoting a globally unique, open, and accessible Internet. And, as you can see, sometimes we have fun doing this, too.
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