The GovLab SCAN – Issue 54

Samantha Grassle and Shruti Sannon also contributed to this post.

As part of the GovLab’s Living Labs on Smarter Governance project, this is our 54th edition of The SCAN – Selected Curation of Articles on Net-Governance. Feel free to share your suggestions with us at [email protected]

This week’s highlights:

  • The United Nations Third Committee of the General Assembly adopted a resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age, brought to the UN by Brazil and Germany.
  • The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe has released an Issue Paper on The rule of law on the Internet and in the wider digital world, with important conclusions and recommendations.


CCWG-Accountability Meeting #1. December 9, 2014.

  • The ICANN Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG-Accountability) had its first meeting this week. The meeting notes, transcripts, and recordings are available here.

Internet Governance

1st EU-US Cyber Dialogue. European Union External Action Service. December 5, 2014.

  • “On the occasion of the inaugural meeting of the EU-US Cyber Dialogue on 5 December 2014, EU and US representatives met in Brussels to discuss several foreign policy-related cyber issues”, including: “International Security in Cyberspace”; “Internet Governance Developments in 2015”; “Cybersecurity” and “Cybercrime”; “Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Online”; and “Global Cyber Capacity Building”.

Assange. Julian. Who Should Own the Internet? The New York Times. December 4, 2014.

  • In this opinion piece, Assange references George Orwell’s 1945 essay, “You and the Atomic Bomb” in which Orwell proposes the idea that “a complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon — so long as there is no answer to it — gives claws to the weak.” Assange highlights the massive scale and culture of modern surveillance brought about by corporations and public institutions alike.  He concludes by returning to Orwell’s essay and argues that cryptography has the potential to level the playing field and give “claws to the weak” to fight for freedom and the right to privacy on the Internet.

‘Counterfeit’ domains seized by Europol. BBC News. December 1, 2014.

  • According to Europol, European police seized 292 web domains selling counterfeit luxury goods, including “sportswear, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and pirated goods like movies and music.” The sites now display educational information on copyright crime. This anti-counterfeit initiative called Our Sites has seized 1,829 domains since it launched in November 2012. The goal of the initiative is to “work with international partners to crack down on the criminal networks” engaging in counterfeiting activity.

European Internet Proposal Under Attack. The New York Times. December 08, 2014.

  • Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has stated that Internet service providers should be able to divide Internet access into two tiers: special services and everything else. According to Merkel, this would “encourage innovation by providing more reliable and secure service to applications that require it while guaranteeing that all other Internet traffic is treated equally by telecom companies.” Some of the problems with this approach lie in determining what constitutes a special service and how much ISPs will be able to charge for these, and that smaller companies could be priced out, hampering innovation. Earlier this year, the European Parliament voted to protect net neutrality, but the legislation still needs the approval of the European Council.

Grigsby, Alex. UN Committee Adopts Resolution on Right to Privacy in the Digital AgeCouncil on Foreign Relations. December 1, 2014.

  • A recent UN resolution called on states to “respect and protect the right to privacy in the digital age.” Led by Germany and Brazil, the resolution expanded upon a similar one from last year. This time around, the resolution included a reference to the need to protect personal information within the context of metadata, as well as a reference to the NETMundial conference held in Brazil in April of this year. The author speculates that the adopted text was better received by the Five Eyes (an intelligence grouping which includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) once it removed the reference to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report on surveillance practices, and the suggestion that “states’ human rights obligations extend beyond their borders and jurisdiction.” The resolution also hints at the establishment of a new procedure to identify and claritfy “principles, standards, and best practices regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy.”

Internet Society Strengthens Commitment to the Internet Governance Forum. Internet Society. December 5, 2014.

  • The Internet Society (ISOC) has announced that it will strengthen its support of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) by donating $100,000 to the IGF Support Association. The donation is in addition to a $100,000 donation made by ISOC earlier this year. The IGF Support Association “contributes to the United Nations IGF Trust Fund and supports activities such as Internet governance-related capacity building in developing countries, national and regional IGF initiatives, and fellowships for participation in IGF meetings at national, regional and global levels.”

McCarthy, Kieran. US Congress in cash freeze bid to DERAIL global DNS handover. The Register. December 10, 2014.

  • The 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed this week by the U.S. Congress contains a section (540) that “specifically denies that the funds approved can be used by the NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] to ‘relinquish [its] responsibility… with respect to Internet domain name system functions… and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority [IANA] functions’.” While “the defunding will not prevent the transition from happening since it is a contract due to expire” – requiring no action on the part of the NTIA – the specification does “prevent the NTIA from holding special meetings to discuss the transition” and thus prevent the NTIA from effectively sharing its expertise in the IANA stewardship transition process.

McCarthy, Kieren. US govt tells ICANN: No accountability, no keys to the internet. The Register. December 05, 2014.

  • Lawrence Strickling, the United States’ Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the Department of Commerce, has stated that the U.S. government will not hand over the IANA contract unless improvements are made to ICANN’s accountability. Strickling stated that the “NTIA believes that this accountability process needs to include the stress testing of solutions to safeguard against future contingencies such as attempts to influence or takeover ICANN functions that are not currently possible with the IANA functions contract in place.” This article includes 12 proposed “stress tests” for ICANN. The U.S. government has the option to extend its contract by 4 years. According to ICANN staff, accountability mechanisms are not necessarily tied to the IANA transition, and it may not be possible to introduce them in time for the planned transition timeline in October 2015.

Merkel challenges net neutrality by urging fast lines for ‘special services.’  RT. December 5, 2014.

  • Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her disagreement with principles of net neutrality, arguing that there should be preferential service for certain high stakes online services like tele-medicine. Merkel indicated that she will challenge the European Parliaments full support of net neutrality at a future European Council meeting. Merkel’s position puts her in opposition to U.S. President Obama, as well as other German and European politicians and academics.

Net Politics: A Conversation with Fadi Chehadé. Council on Foreign Relations. December 3, 2014.

  • In this podcast, “CFR Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies and Director for the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program Adam Segal speaks with Fadi Chehadé, chief executive officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), about the future of Internet governance.”

Nothias, Jean-Christophe. The New Social Contract for The Internet. Huffington Post Tech. December 5, 2014.

  • In this article, Nothias highlights examples of the politicization of the Internet. Nothias is wary of recent developments, and urges readers to be critical of the prevailing “multistakeholder narrative” and examine the actions of vested interests currently involved. The author also uses the example of the mass surveillance revelations, enabled by private US based corporations, to warn that we must pay attention to instances where the Internet obscures the democratic social contract. Nothias concludes that Internet users around the world must make a greater effort to pressure governments to “re-balance Internet power and care about digital policies so that it [the Internet] reinforces democracy instead of marginalizing it.”

Remarks by Assistant Secretary Strickling at the PLI/FCBA Telecommunications Policy & Regulation Institute. National Telecommunications & Information Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. December 4, 2014.

  • Strickling emphasizes that “the two work streams on the IANA transition and enhanced accountability are directly linked and NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] has repeatedly said that both issues must be addressed before any transition takes place”, as well as that “NTIA believes that this accountability process needs to include the stress testing of solutions to safeguard against future contingencies such as attempts to influence or takeover ICANN functions that are not currently possible with the IANA functions contract in place.” He also states that, “if for some reason the community needs more time, we have the option to extend the current contract for up to four years.”

Scott, Mark. British Court Rules in Favor of Electronic Surveillance. The New York Times. December 5, 2014.

  • Last week, a high-level British court ruled that the electronic mass surveillance of cell phone and digital communications by UK intelligence agencies is legal. This is one of the first international cases linked to the Snowden revelations of the “Prism” surveillance program led by American and British intelligence agencies. Privacy advocates hope that the outcome will be different when appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which will most likely happen in late 2015.

Schechner, Sam. France Wants EU Data Privacy Rules to ‘Balance’ U.S. Web Giants’ Power. Wall Street Journal. December 8, 2014.

  • French Prime Minister Manuel Valls at a conference organized by France’s data-protection agency this week stated “that France supports a tough new data-protection regulation currently being debated at a European level”, and “that a framework for protecting personal data could help make Europe an attractive place for people to put their data, creating new economic opportunities for European companies.”

Vara, Vauhini. The World Cracks Down On The Internet. The New Yorker. December 4, 2014.

  • Vauhini covers the main findings of Freedom House’s fifth annual report on Internet freedom around the world.  Most notably, this report suggests that Internet freedom is steadily declining throughout the world, as thirty-six of sixty-five countries ranked lower than they did last year (a continual trend since the Freedom House reports started in 2010). Researchers suggest that a likely reason behind this decline involves the fact that “in countries where people are just beginning to go online in large numbers, governments that restrict freedom offline — particularly authoritarian regimes — are only beginning to do the same online too.” Authoritarian regimes are now shifting from relying on technical censorship to using legal systems to restrict how people can use the Internet.

Papers and Reports

Freedom On The Net 2014. Freedom House. December, 2014.

  • Freedom House has released “the fifth annual comprehensive study of internet freedom around the globe, covering developments in 65 countries that occurred between May 2013 and May 2014” and the report “finds internet freedom around the world in decline for the fourth consecutive year, with 36 out of 65 countries assessed in the report experiencing a negative trajectory during the coverage period.” The report also identifies emerging threats, such as multiplying data localization requirements, the underminind of women’s and LGBTI rights by digital threats, and the erosion of cybersecurity. See the full report here, and the executive summary here. See the Freedom On The Net Map here.

Smith, Aaron. Half of online Americans don’t know what a privacy policy is. Pew Research Center. December 4, 2014.

  • A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that 52% of Americans believe that “when a company posts a privacy policy it ensures that the company keeps confidential all the information it collects on users.” This statement is false, and in reality a privacy policy is “simply a legal document that discloses how customer data is managed and used.” These results reflect findings from a similar survey in 2003, when 57% of surveyed Internet users believed that privacy policies ensure that website will not share their personal information. Researcher Joseph Turow from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication believes that these misperceptions are based on people’s existing assumptions about privacy policies, policy language that is difficult or impossible to interpret, and a lack of understanding of the scope of data that is collected and linked within data mining processes.

Purcell, Kristen, and Rainee, Lee. Americans Feel Better Informed Thanks to the Internet. Pew Research Center. December 8, 2014.

  • A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that “rather than crushing them with too much information and making it hard to find useful material, most Americans say the internet and cell phones have brought benefits in learning, sharing and diversifying the flow of information into their lives” and that “the vast majority of Americans believe their use of the web helps them learn new things, stay better informed on topics that matter to them, and increases their capacity to share ideas and creations with others.”

The rule of law on the Internet and in the wider digital world. Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. December, 2014.

  • “This issue paper addresses a pressing question: how can we ensure that the rule of law is established and maintained on the Internet and in the wider digital world? Section 1 describes the range of online activities and the threats to this environment; section 2 discusses the emerging “Internet governance” principles, and notes the special control exercised over the digital world by the USA (and the UK, in respect of Europe), which could lead to fragmentation of the Internet in response. Section 3 sketches the international standards of the rule of law, and some problems in the application of law in this new environment. Section 4 looks in some more detail at the main issues emerging from the earlier sections – freedom of expression, privatised law enforcement, data protection, cybercrime and national security – and discusses the delicate balances that need to be struck. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has formulated a number of recommendations on the basis of the issues raised by this issue paper; these are set out after this executive summary.”

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