From Surveillance to Swing States, Transparency to Turkish Digital Rights

What to Expect at the 2014 Internet Governance Forum

article | September 01, 2014

This week, OTI’s Policy Director Kevin Bankston and I are in Istanbul, Turkey, to attend the ninth annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF), along with Rebecca MacKinnon, Director of the Ranking Digital Rights project. OTI will be leading or participating in a number of key sessions and side meetings at the conference (which officially starts tomorrow) as well as attending various panels and events related to our broader work.

The yearly IGF is the largest multistakeholder Internet governance convening, bringing together representatives of governments, members of civil society, academics, corporations, and more to discuss a wide range of issues that impact the future of the global Internet. Key issues on the agenda this year include government surveillance, net neutrality, and the future of the multistakeholder Internet governance model. Here’s what we’ll be paying special attention to throughout the week: The future of Internet governance

OTI is keenly interested in the continued evolution of the multistakeholder Internet governance model and has conducted strategic research on swing states in the global Internet governance debate in the past year. Our paper Tipping the Scales: An Analysis of Global Swing States in the Internet Governance Debate, published by the Center for International Governance Innovation earlier this year, identifies a core group of 30 potential countries whose behavior could significantly shift the future of Internet governance. We will continue to monitor the various international processes underway — including the transfer of oversight of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function from the U.S. Commerce Department to the global multistakeholder community, and the follow-up from the NetMundial multistakeholder convening earlier this year in Brazil — and weigh in on these discussions at both the IGF and the Bestbits pre-meeting for civil society.

The costs of surveillance

More than a year after the first Snowden leaks, a tremendous amount of evidence has emerged about the impact of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs on the U.S. economy, foreign policy objectives, and the security of the Internet as a whole. Following the recent publication of Surveillance Costs: The NSA’s Impact on the Economy, Internet Freedom & Cybersecurity, a study that attempts to categorize and quantify these effects, OTI will continue to examine the fallout from the NSA programs. In particular, we’ll be looking into the damage to the United States’ Internet Freedom agenda, which faces a serious credibility gap post-Snowden, as well as the technical implications of a number of proposals that have emerged in the past year to increase data localization and attempt to route Internet traffic around the United States. Related to this work, OTI’s Kevin Bankston will be part of a panel at IGF on privacy, surveillance, and the cloud a year after Snowden, discussing how policymakers, businesses, and users have responded to government access to user data in the cloud.

Net neutrality

It’s been a busy year for net neutrality advocates around the world. The European Union and Brazil took significant steps to codify net neutrality protections this spring while consumers advocates, policymakers, and Internet Service Providers here in the United States continue to debate the best path forward for the Federal Communications Commission to take in the wake of the January 2014 *Verizon v. FCC decision. While OTI remains primarily engaged in this issue domestically, there are undoubtedly spillover effects that affect the global Internet community as well as lessons to be learned from abroad. We’ll be part of these discussions at IGF, which has dedicated several workshops as well as a plenery session to the topic.

Export controls and sanctions

OTI has been a leader in analyzing how U.S. trade regulations impact the free flow of information around the world, particularly in repressive countries. Our research has analyzed the evolution of authorizations for personal communications tools under U.S. sanctions, recommending that the government harmonize its treatment of these products and services]( across all five comprehensively sanctioned countries and continue to carve out exceptions for tools that allow ordinary individuals to communicate more safely and securely. At the same time, we have traced the recent emergence of export controls designed to stop the transfer of censorship and surveillance technology to countries with poor human rights records, which would mirror and expand the approach taken toward preventing the export of ‘sensitive technologies’ to sanctioned countries like Iran and Syria. We are continuing to track these issues as developments emerge, emphasizing the importance of ensuring that good technologies are available to ordinary people while monitoring and tracking equipment is kept out of the hands of repressive governments and other bad actors. This is an issue of particular resonance as the IGF convenes in Turkey, a country that has a deeply troubling record when it comes to respecting human right online and, according to research from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, has acquired sophisticated hacking tools from Western companies for use against dissidents.

Transparency reporting

In the past year, OTI has partnered with the Berkman Center at Harvard University to research emerging trends in the field of transparency reporting and begin to a develop a best-practice guide for these reports that can be used by everyone from small startups to Internet giants. Kevin Bankston will lead a session at the IGF on “Transparency Reporting as a Tool for Internet Governance” which will look at the standards developing around transparency reports and how those standards can be internationalized and enforced. In coming weeks, OTI will also be publishing additional research memos on transparency reporting best practices as part of its ongoing transparency reporting work.

Now in its ninth year, IGF has proven itself to be a unique and irreplaceable venue for thoughtful dialogue between civil society, government and business on the future of the Internet. OTI is honored to be a part of it this year, and looks forward to continuing that dialogue into the future.

Learn more about what Rebecca MacKinnon and the Ranking Digital Rights project team will be doing at IGF here.