Internet Governance | Model Diplomacy


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Internet governance is about the need to make sure that all the parts of the internet can work together. Early on the founders of the internet realized that there was at least one aspect where they needed centralized government, and that was the assignment of names and numbers. You have the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as ICANN. And ICANN manages the IANA functions, which is the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. It handles those basic things like assigning IP addresses, assigning domain names, and managing the protocols that govern the internet. Those protocols are developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, a voluntary organization made up of the technical experts that have built and run the internet. When we look at the global landscape on internet governance, there are really three camps. There’s the United States, which is pushing very hard for this open, interoperable, secure, and reliable internet that is not controlled by states. And then you have the Chinese approach, staking out a sovereign internet. And they’ve developed what is called the Great Firewall of China, which blocks and inspects traffic as it goes in and out of China. They’re pushing to create an image of the internet internationally that is essentially in their national image, where potentially they might be able to control not only what happens within their country, but say what happens in the United States, where they might be able to level a legal complaint in the United States, if for instance the premier of China is criticized in a way that would be illegal in China. And then you’ve got Brazil and European countries who are somewhere in the middle. An uncensored internet is a foreign concept in many countries. Even when you look at countries we consider allies, like in Europe, the degree to which they want to control what is on the internet is much higher than in the United States. The Snowden revelations made many people convinced that the U.S. interest was really for the purposes of surveillance. That’s certainly not the case, but it was a hard argument for the U.S. government to fight down. There’s this push by companies to say we’re going to encrypt all the traffic in a form that only the recipient and the sender can read it. We won’t be able, when requested by a law enforcement agency or an intelligence agency, to give access to that information. Primarily the U.S. government’s been focused on a couple areas. One, how do states conduct warfare on the internet, and what are the norms that control it? And two, what do states do over the Internet in terms of spying? And the U.S. primary focus here has been on corporate espionage. We’ve seen tentative agreements with China and the United States to commit to not engaging in this activity. Right now is a very interesting situation. The U.S. government and multinational companies are in a tenuous alliance to try and keep the internet as something where the U.S. has a large share of traffic because it’s in our interest to be the hub that connects the rest of the world.

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