McColo and the lessons for effective Internet Governance

A speaker at the EURIM Directors Round Table on Information Governance this week sharply criticised the use of the “fetish” word governance in place of “accountability”. We use debate about structures to cover up failure to hold people and organisations to account for not  using and enforcing existing law.

have received much interesting feed-back on the McColo incident, including that it is much easier to remove spammers and malware practitioners when they their route their traffic through the smaller ISPs. It is much harder when criminals route their activities through market leaders, despite their supposedly better technology and security resource. That is because no-one would threaten to block a BT, Google or Microsoft service until they have done what is necessary. Hence the Washington Post finding that, according to Spamhaus, Microsoft is moving up, not down, the list of “spam friendly” ISPs. 
But, what would the headlines be if Microsoft they were to publicly commit to rigorous co-operation with  law enforcement around the world to police the Internet, in advance of any agreement on a democratically accountable governance framework for that co-operation?
H ence the importance of the Internet Governance Forum in Hyderabad next week.
There are only two years to go before the IGF remit to agree effective co-operation on the issues raised at WSIS in Tunis runs out.  
Then the spectre of an all-paralysing UN bureaucracy comes back on the table.
The UK and European Parliaments will be well represented at the IGF in Hyderabad. Half the  board of EURIM will be there – leaving me behind to look after the on-line shop.  
How many the Congressmen and Senators from the United States will be at meetings expected to discuss the transfer of control over the governance of Internet in line with usage? Probably none. They still assume their executive can block such moves at the diiplomatic level
But the Brasilians, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Koreans now have more Internet users than Western nations added together. They are leading the way with mass-market, high bandwidth on-line and mobile gaming and social networking – including discovering and addressing the issues these raise – such as how to create serious, legitimate, revenue streams other than from pay-per-click adverts and malware protection services. And the credit crunch means that economic power has moved to those who are keeping the dollar afloat.  
Obama makes great speaches about the the changing world and his team certainly understood the value of the Internet in laundering political donations so that these appeared as a myriad of small amounts supposedly donated by ordinary Americans,
But d o the Democrats understand the need to address the realities of the changing on-line world any more than the Republicans?
There are signs that they may.
Robert Shapiro, one of Obama’s advisors, gave an excellent answer when I asked him about how they would react to Chinese priorities during his whistlestop tour of London last week.
But time is running out.
The future of Internet Governance may well be determined by how the main ISPs work together to prevent the spammers and malware practitioners getting back on line of the next couple of weeks – including how they reconcile this with the democratic values of Western Internet – as well as with their responsbilities to their other customers.
I personally believe the way forward will entail the kind of co-operation at which London, with operations like the Centre for Effective Disputes Resolution, excells. Those who could, for example, unravel the Maxwell Pension funds, ensuring that most of what was left went to pensioners not lawyers, have the “what is practical” mindset that is missing from much current debate.
We can no more afford to leave Internet Governance to obsessional techies and their lawyers than to diplomats and bureaucrats.
Personally I’d rather trust a cartel of major ISPs working direct with law enforcement – provided they can come up with a creditable set of routines for subsequent public accountability. But that is because I trust many of the academics and lawyers who commonly advise government and regulators even less.
When I joined ISOC in 1995 that was what I was told it had really been created for – it was merely marking time till the world was ready ….  I’m pretty certain that the world is ready – is ISOC?
If not – who is?   

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I have worried recently whether the IGF has the support of some of the movers and shakers of the Internet. This is since I asked Sir Tim Berners Lee on a visit to London in July about his reactions to the IGF in Rio and the prospects for Hyderabad. To sum up his rather bizarre answer:

1. To him, Internet Governance is all about the status of ICANN.

2. He has not thought very hard about whether some other bureaucratic structure should replace ICANN.

3. He would like to discuss the options at length.

Perhaps the IGF should engage with him, explain their definition of Internet Governance, and get him on their side.

Sir Tim's pronouncements are somewhat Delphic nowadays. Here is a full transcript, and better minds than mine can perhaps find a different interpretation of what he said:

“Internet Governance is the Achilles Heel of the Web. The Web is a big distributed system, where you link with gay abandon, and you don’t have to ask anybody’s permission, except that you have to get yourself a domain name. Then you have to give somebody money for it, and worry whether it really is your domain name. A lot of Internet Governance is based around that.

The existing system of Governance, ICANN, has been an attempt to build from scratch a sort of democratic system where the Internet Community, whatever that is, has somehow managed to govern itself. To do that, thinking from scratch, is really difficult.

My feeling is that the core underlying way in which the Internet is governed, the way that the domain-servers are run, should change slowly. And the way to make anything change slowly is to set up a bureaucracy to manage it. So you should give it to an international organisation, and set up lots of international committees, on which countries vote, simply because we want some stability. I would like to have a system where domain names last for centuries.

I would like to be able to buy a domain name and get perpetual care for it, because I think persistence is important out there on the Web. What we see now are discussions about releasing huge numbers of top-level domain names, with little concern about what is going into their governance, and whether there are good reasons for releasing them – like printing money and generating new real-estate on the Web, just as a commercial move, which I find kinda boring.

The Internet Community has not liked the idea of bureaucratic governance that have been attempted by various groups to set up alternatives to ICANN. I think it is not obvious what the correct solution is, and what groups should be involved. This is much more of a complicated discussion than we have time for now, but I am not averse to talking about it.”

Not much of an endorsement from the founder of the WWW!