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May 14-15, 2015
Who gets to control the internet? What will the user experience look like in the near future, with governments, tech companies, privacy rights activists all pushing different agenda? Columbia SIPA and the Global Commission on Internet Governance did a fantastic job convening some of the foremost academics and policy experts at the 2015 Conference on Internet Governance & Cyber-security (see agenda) for a two-day discussion on these timely issues. I’ve was fortunate enough to attend day one, and recorded some key themes that stuck out to me:
Many speakers, including Vinton Cerf, Vice President & Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, identified fragmentation as one of the major threats facing the internet. Brad Smith, General Counsel & Executive Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, also touched on the danger of having a fragmented rather than fully connected internet.
Rebecca MacKinnon, Director of Ranking Digital Rights Project at New America, railed again that type of technical determinism that absolves individual and companies of responsibility in working towards a more open and free internet.
I couldn’t help but draw frequent comparisons to the post-2015 negotiations during the panel on “The Future of Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance.” Fadi Chehadé, CEO & President of ICANN, recounted the complaint of one UN Ambassador, who found internet governance much murkier than the rigidly refined processes of the UN.
Kathryn Brown, President and CEO of the Internet Society, suggested that we should focus more on collaboration than “multistakeholderism” and called for more trusted and transparent decision making. Fadi, who prefers “solutions over labels,” suggested that the term’s connotations may act as a barrier to implementable agreements.
Beth Noveck, GCIG Commissioner & Director of NYU GovLab, shared her perspective on managing more voices in the decision making process. The internet has been celebrated as an egalitarian party to which everyone is invited, though Beth noted that “opening the flood doors is not optimal for decision making.” New tools built upon the internet’s connectivity allows us to see more and better options, to identify the relevant experts, and to get more people involved in problem solving.
It’s already a great success that communications technologies has helped to create a more informed public on complex, niche issues, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The internet is one of the newest fundamentally transformative tools man has created, and we have “the ability to construct processes that are manageable for decision making…proliferating opportunities for people to participate in specific and constructive ways.”