• Law, Policy—and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


Internet Governance

A weekend roundup.


March 12, 2017

For many posts over the years, I have called for some framework of international governance to address cybersecurity. Yesterday’s New York Times expose of one of Russia’s most famous cybercriminals is another case in point. Without international agreements, how does anyone expect to constructively address a world of such criminality, especially one intertwined with espionage as the Russians practice it? 

Before the 2016 we might have filed such problems as something for technology to fix. With Russian interference in the election, we ignore the implications of cybersecurity at the peril of our own republic. Especially as that republic struggles within itself for a foothold of integrity and fairness.

 Those among us who fail to recognize the inherent contradictions of the president’s on-going conflicts of interest blind themselves from their own self-interest. Those who do not see the beginnings of a cover-up in the firing of New York’s federal prosecutor Preet Bharara are missing what could become the critical link in a proper investigation into Trump’s campaign relationships with Russia. 

Would it be possible to play cover-up politics in an international framework of Internet governance?  Of course. Corruption can and does exist at every level of governance, no matter how high or vaulted. But is it more difficult to propagate corruption at that level? Yes, because more eyes rest on it. A larger group invests a stake. A diversity of perspectives creates more innovative and free thought. The expectation that the framework exists to serve a common good exerts more force than the closed, parochial interests. 

 Multi-stakeholder attention to the internet might make a difference in some of the national reversals we now experience. A new F.C.C. Commissioner signals intent to de-categorize the internet as a utility, with the purpose of ending the net neutrality rules that came along with it. This past week, we learned that the Commissioner won a vote to halt data privacy and security rules that would apply to telecommunications companies. This path does not bode well for consumers. Nor does it send the right message in the fight to address cybersecurity.  If we cannot regulate privacy and security for consumers, why do we care about hackers? Civil and criminal law are closely linked.

Zeynep Tufekci, to my mind the most respected commentator about the internet writing today, this week exposed the WikiLeaks announcement for exactly what it is: a lot of puff.  What WikiLeaks released is old and tired stuff. Anyone who thinks that the CIA does not truck in zero days or that the United States is not involved in global surveillance needs to take a basic history course. There was nothing new in that release. Rather, it was a pathetic plea from Assange who is trying to warm up to the Silicon Valley tech world. He is concerned that the election results in Ecuador might get him ejected from his hidey hole in London; he is desperate for new friends.  Whoa to any company or country that reciprocates.

Thomas B. Edsall recently wrote to suggest that the internet has disrupted democracy.  In the wake of all of the above, I can see how he might think that to be the case. But he confuses cause and effect. Significantly disruptive technologies: the proverbial guns and steel, or, more fitting, the printing press, exacerbate and accelerate change that is already taking place. What that change will look like or how it will be described for the world, or even just the United States, should animate future historians for centuries to come. And of course, the winners get to write the text.  I only know this much: we still have choices to make. The more we resist some form of reasonable, rational, multi-stakeholder, global governance to address issues of both international and domestic importance, from the economics of commerce to the power of politics, the more unsavory will be our future to contemplate.


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Tracy Mitrano

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