The New York Times just published an interview with Dr. Vin Cerf in a story entitled “Viewing Where the Internet Goes”.
The backdrop is due to the ” Snowden affair”, ” the new year is likely to see renewed calls to change the way the Internet is governed”.
“In particular, governments that do not favor the free flow of information, especially if it’s through a system designed by Americans, would like to see the Internet regulated in a way that would “Balkanize” it by preventing access to certain websites”.
“The debate right now involves two international organizations, usually known by their acronyms, with different views: Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and the I.T.U., or International Telecommunication Union.”
Today the Times interviewed Dr. Cerf who is describes as;
“Dr. Cerf, who was chairman of Icann from 2000-7, has become known as an informal “Internet ambassador” and a strong proponent of an Internet that remains independent of state control. He has been one of the major supporters of the idea of “network neutrality” — the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications, regardless of the source”
It promises to publish an interview with Dr. Kahn who supports the I.T.U. “the United Nations telecommunications regulatory agency. Nations like Brazil, China and Russia have been pressing the United States to switch governance of the Internet to this organization”.
Here are some selected Q & A from Dr. Cerf:
Q. Edward Snowden’s actions have raised a new storm of controversy about the role of the Internet. Is it a significant new challenge to an open and global Internet?
A. The answer is no, I don’t think so.
There are some similar analogues in history.
The French historically copied every telex or every telegram that you sent, and they shared it with businesses in order to remain competitive. And when that finally became apparent, it didn’t shut down the telegraph system.
The Snowden revelations will increase interest in end-to-end cryptography for encrypting information both in transit and at rest. For many of us, including me, who believe that is an important capacity to have, this little crisis may be the trigger that induces people to spend time and energy learning how to use it.
You’ve drawn the analogy to a road or highway system. That brings to mind the idea of requiring a driver’s license to use the Internet, which raises questions about responsibility and anonymity.
I still believe that anonymity is an important capacity, that people should have the ability to speak anonymously. It’s argued that people will be encouraged to say untrue things, harmful things, especially if they believe they are anonymous.
There is a tension there, because in some environments the only way you will be able to behave safely is to have some anonymity.
The other side of this coin is that I believe that strong authentication is necessary.
We must support the entire spectrum here.
In some cases you want whistle-blowing kinds of capacity that will protect anonymity.
Some governments will not tolerate anonymity, and in our government it’s still an open question.
Can the Internet be governed effectively?
I’m deliberately arguing that new institutions are not necessary.
How significant is the danger that the Internet will be balkanized, as critics of the I.T.U. fear?
Balkanization is too simple of a concept.
There is an odd mix of permeability and impermeability in the Net. You won’t be able to communicate with everyone, and not every application will be accessible to everyone.
We will be forced to lose the basic and simple notion that everyone should be able to communicate with everyone else.
I’m disappointed that the idyllic and utopian model of everyone being able to communicate with everyone else and do what they want to do will be — what is the right word? Inhibited is the wrong word, because it sounds too widespread — maybe variable is the best way of saying it. End-to-end connectivity will vary depending on location.
How has your original design weathered the test of time?
Everything has expanded by a factor of a million since we turned it on in 1973.
The number of machines on the network, the speeds of the network, the kind of memory capacity that’s available, it’s all 10 to the sixth.
I would say that there aren’t too many systems that have been designed that can handle a millionfold scaling without completely collapsing. But that doesn’t mean that it will continue to work that way.
Is the I.T.U. and its effort to take over governance a threat to an open Internet?
People complained about my nasty comment. I said that these dinosaurs don’t know that they’re dead yet, because it takes so long for the signal to traverse their long necks to get to their pea-sized brains.
Some people were insulted by that.
I was pleased.
It’s not at all clear to me that I.T.U.’s standards-making activities have kept up with need.
The consequence of this is that they are less and less relevant.
Does the scandal imply anything about the future of the Internet more generally?
You can’t gaze in the crystal ball and see the future.
What the Internet is going to be in the future is what society makes it. I
t will be what the businesses offer, it will be new products and services.
It’s the new ideas that show up that nobody thought of before.
Can the Internet be governed? What about the disputes between the different standards-setting bodies over control of the network?
No matter what you do, any country in the world is going to have the ability to set its own rules internally. Any country in the world can pull the plug. It’s not a question of technical issues, it’s not a question of right or wrong, it’s not a question of whether global Internet governance is right or wrong.
It’s just with us.
I used to do the Icann [management] function myself with one 3-by-5 card in my pocket, and when I got two of them, I asked Jon Postel if he would take over.
You have to put it in perspective.
Now it’s a huge business, and it gets caught up in a few things.