Friday, February 27, 2009

The Reality of Internet Governance

My seminar yesterday at the James Martin 21st Century School in Oxford seemed to be well-received, with some interesting discussion following my presentation. You can see the slides below, now with added audio, although unfortunately the first couple of minutes have been snipped.


Jeremy said...

Perhaps I'm a bit daft, but... aren't the NSA and WIPO more 'systems that are requiring internet governance' and well, ICANN might govern DNS and naming, but that's not the internet really is it? So i guess what I'm wondering is... where is 'internet governance' for I only see claims for governance and then disparately enabled actors. Now, I see internet governance in China, but I'm not sure that is the governance you would define. so what is this internet governance and why do claims toward the need for governance count as governance?

Ian Brown said...

People commonly use "governance" in a wider sense than "government" — as (public and private) processes of governing. So I wanted to contrast three attempts at global policymaking related to the Internet: to control encryption software; to prevent the circumvention of copyright enforcement technologies; and to maintain a stable addressing system for the Internet. My talk was essentially about why the first two attempts failed, whilst the third attempt has limped along just well enough to work.

Jeremy said...

Yes, I understand the concept of governance, but the first two are dealing with commodities that would exist and be governed without the internet. The latter one might be 'governance' if you collapse it to 'management' of a market. I don't think any of these are necessarily internet governance, so much as the first two are governance projects that had to account for the internet and the third is a governance project related to usability of the internet. None of them are really governance of, maybe they are governance on, or through.

Perhaps it is just that I think of 'internet governance' as a system to govern the internet, which actually does exist to some extent, and would be affected by the first two and to some extent is paralleled by icann. I think you can see 'internet goverance' most clearly if you look at who did what during the iana age of internet governance, when dns was not that important.

Ian Brown said...

Encryption software and TPM circumvention tools would have existed without the Internet, but they would have been harder both to peer-produce and to distribute. Nor could their products (enciphered communications and unrestricted digital content) have been distributed as easily.

I don't think ICANN is the be-all and end-all of Internet governance, but it is a potential point of control for governments — which is one reason I think why some states are so exercised by the ultimate control of the Department of Commerce. As I said at the end of the presentation, this control could only go so far before users switched to other naming systems. Search engines are also now the predominant way that users discover new sites. Still, there seems to be high symbolic value in this limited US control. It's interesting that the IANA functions seem so much less controversial.