Samantha Grassle also contributed to this post.
As part of the GovLab’s Living Labs on Smarter Governance project, this is our 60th edition of The SCAN – Selected Curation of Articles on Net-Governance. Feel free to share your suggestions with us at SCAN@thegovlab.org.
This week’s highlights:
- On Tuesday, the US Federal Communications Commission made a significant revision to its definition of broadband, changing the standard to downloads of 25 megabits a second and uploads of 3 megabits a second from earlier speeds of 4 Mbps downloads and 1 Mbps uploads.
- Civil society organizations from around the world launched the Internet Social Forum (ISF), a group with a mission to create a “participatory bottom-up space for all those who believe that the global Internet must evolve in the public interest.” The group is spearheaded by the Just Net Coalition and began as a response to the World Economic Forum’s Net Mundial Initiative.
- The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to make a decision on net neutrality in the near future, and in The One Loophole to Rule Them All, Marvin Ammori warns that telecommunications companies will lobby to put a loophole in the FCC’s rule. Also, in Before Net Neutrality: The Surprising 1940s Battle for Radio Freedom, Annenberg Professor Victor Pickard opines that “how this debate plays out may determine whether we follow the path of broadcasting or begin to create a media system worthy of its democratic promise.”
ICANN and IANA
Corwin, Philip. NTIA Says Cromnibus Bars IANA Transition During Current Contract Term. Circle ID. January 27, 2015.
- At the most recent State of the Net conference held this week, NTIA head Lawrence Strickling gave the first official reaction from the Obama administration “to language included in the December 2014 Omnibus Appropriations legislation (dubbed the “Cromnibus”) that forbade the NTIA from spending a single penny on transferring the IANA functions contract during fiscal year 2015 (FY 2015).” Strickling denied that the NTIA would seek a loophole to allow the transition to occur during its current term. Based on his remarks, the author concludes that “it seems inevitable that NTIA will extend the IANA contract term, with the only question being whether it will be a full two year extension or some lesser amount of time.”
Malancharuvil, Kiran. ICANN: Our Top 3 Policy Priorities for 2015. Circle ID. January 23, 2015.
- In this article, Malancharuvil provides an overview of the year ahead for ICANN. In the author’s opinion, the three areas that will be most important in the new year include the rights protection mechanism review, the registrar accreditation agreement evaluation, and privacy/proxy services accreditation.
McCarthy, Kieran. US looks at plan to hand over world’s DNS — and screams blue murder. Information Policy. January 29, 2015.
- McCarthy covers Larry Strickling’s recent statements about the progress of the IANA transition to date. Overall, Strickling made it clear that the working group in charge of the process “has over-engineered a solution to replace the US government from the running of the IANA body, and may create more problems than it solves.” McCarthy says his criticisms of the working group align with many of Stricklings concerns, and that the biggest mistake has been the working group’s attempt “recreate itself in the role of the US government but with more processes and less experience or knowledge.”
Ammori, Marvin. The One Loophole to Rule Them All. Slate. January 29, 2015.
- Ammori gives an overview of recent developments regarding the FCC’s decision-making process on net neutrality, and warns that over the next month telecommunications companies will lobby to put a loophole in the FCC’s rule. According to the author, we should all be concerned if the major telecommunications companies manage to secure any loopholes, because “with one alone they can create an entirely new business ecosystem of slow and fast lanes that undermines the open Internet.”
Arsu, Sebnem, and Scott, Mark. Facebook Is Said to Block Pages Critical of Muhammad to Avoid Shutdown in Turkey. The New York Times. January 26, 2015.
- Earlier this week, Facebook removed pages depicting the image of Prophet Muhammad from its social network in Turkey in order to comply with an order from a Turkish court. Had it not complied with the ruling, Facebook ran the risk of being banned from Turkey altogether. According to Facebook’s most recent transparency report, Turkey ranked second in the list of countries that asked the company to block content: nearly 1,900 pieces of content were blocked at the Turkish government’s request in the first half of 2014.
China puts cybersecurity squeeze on US technology companies. The Guardian. January 29, 2015.
- The Chinese government has moved to instate new cybersecurity regulations that would “force American companies selling technology to Chinese banks to hand over their software secrets and adopt encryption algorithms dictated by Beijing.” In response to this development, the American Chamber of Commerce in China and 17 similar US business groups have written a letter to China’s top cybersecurity policy group, urging it to postpone the implementation of these policies. These US business lobbies have stated that the new policies “would require ‘intrusive’ security testing and the disclosure of sensitive intellectual property.”
Corwin, Philip S. Occupy IG- Internet Social Forum to Torpedo NETmundial Initiative and Disrupt Davos Discussions. Circle ID. January 25, 2015.
- Corwin discusses the controversy surrounding the NETmundial initiative, and the recent launch of the Internet Social Forum (ISF). The author characterizes the ISF as most similar to “Occupy IG” with an agenda not of “modest reform but of a total reordering of the present arrangements for DNS management and Internet governance as well as of control for related policy development.” Corwin questions whether the ISF, spearheaded by the Just Net Coalition, is a “genuine grassroots Netizen movement”. He suggests that the initiative could be “a convergence of government-dominated organizations pairing with ‘useful idiot’ entities to pursue a broader and more pernicious agenda of undermining the MSM and replacing it with a UN-led, government dominated one. According to Corwin, this development highlights a divided civil society reaction to the launch of the NETmundial Initiative.
Global Civil Society Launches Internet Social Forum. Inter Press Service. January 22, 2015.
- This week, a group of civil society organizations announced the creation of the Internet Social Forum (ISF), a new initiative dedicated to drawing “urgent attention to the increasing centralization of the Internet” and serving as a counter voice to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Net Mundial Initiative.’ The group will hold a preparatory meeting during the World Social Forum in Tunis in March of 2015, and the official ISF meeting will occur in late 2015 or early 2016, where members of the ISF will develop a “People’s Internet Manifesto.” According to Norbert Bollow of the Just Net Coalition, “While the world’s biggest companies have every right to debate the future of the Internet, we are concerned that their perspectives should not drown out those of ordinary people who have no access to the privileged terrain WEF occupies – in the end it is this wider public interest that must be paramount in governing the Internet. We are organising the Internet Social Forum to make sure their voices can’t be ignored in the corridors of power.”
Greenberg, Andy. No, Department of Justice, 80 Percent of Tor Traffic Is Not Child Porn. Wired. January 28, 2015.
- At the State of the Net conference this week, US assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell “discussed what she described as the dangers of encryption and cryptographic anonymity tools” such as Tor. She stated that Tor is “a huge problem for law enforcement” and cited a study that claimed “80 percent of traffic on the Tor network involves child pornography.” However, as Wired author Greenberg stresses, the study referred to 80 percent of Tor hidden services as being related to child pornography, not 80 percent of all Tor traffic. This is a significant distinction because the “vast majority of Tor’s users run the free anonymity software while visiting conventional websites, using it to route their traffic through encrypted hops around the globe to avoid censorship and surveillance.” Instead, according to the Tor project, Tor’s hidden service comprises only 1.5% of total Tor traffic.
Guilford, Gwynn. The bizarre drama behind Alibaba’s tanking stock price. Quartz. January 29, 2015.
- Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba saw its stock price drop by almost 9% in US trading after announcing its earnings for the last quarter of 2014. While the company’s revenue missed analyst’s estimates, “the bigger problem appears to be a developing scandal surrounding the Chinese government’s Jan. 28 release of a secret white paper condemning Alibaba for illegal activity.” This report was issued by China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), and focused on Alibaba’s “allegedly lax vetting of merchants on its e-commerce marketplaces, which in China are widely believed to be filled with pirated, counterfeit, and illegal goods.” The report, which has since been removed from the site, stated that the “SAIC met with Alibaba’s management to discuss its criticisms on July 16, 2014—two months before Alibaba’s Sep. 19 IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. The report says the agency explicitly kept this meeting “confidential” in order not to hurt Alibaba’s IPO prospects.” In this article, Gwynn Guilford discusses the details of these events, and states that “Alibaba’s current struggle is a reminder to investors that the fortunes of Chinese companies—even a $250-billion company owned by scores of international investors—ultimately swivel on the ever-so fine edge of Communist Party favor.”
Karr, Timothy. Building an Internet Movement from the Bottom Up. The Huffington Post. January 26, 2015.
- In this article, Karr reviews the recent history of online movements in Egypt, Turkey, and Hong Kong, and the countermeasures that authorities have taken to use the Internet as a tool for oppression. Karr then discusses how this “uneasy balance” is the backdrop for the current battle among the Internet governance community. Karr criticizes company heads of Google and Facebook, who claimed in Davos that the Internet will inevitably mean more equality for everyone. He concludes that “The Internet is simply an effective tool for connecting people. Whether the network becomes a force for good or evil is up to its users.”
Lohr, Steve. F.C.C. Sharply Revises Definition of Broadband. The New York Times. January 29, 2015.
- On Thursday, the US Federal Communications Commission, made a significant change to its definition of broadband, increasing “download speeds to more than six times faster than the previous standard, set more than four years ago.” This change follows Thomas Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, proposing the faster standard earlier this month. According to the new definition, the new standard for broadband is “downloads at a speed of 25 megabits a second and uploads of 3 megabits a second. The previous standard was a download speed of 4 megabits a second and an upload speed of 1 megabit a second.” While the impact of this change is yet to be seen, “the standard does guide policy on matters like the national deployment of broadband service, particularly in rural areas.”
Lomas, Natasha. What Happens to Privacy When The Internet Is In Everything? TechCrunch. January 25, 2015.
- This article highlights the discussions about data privacy that arose at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. While many attendees speculated about the future of privacy with the rise of the “Internet of Things”, computer science professor Margo Seltzer argued that we need to be concerned about our data trails today, stating, “Privacy as we know it in the past is no longer feasible” and we are already at a privacy eroding “tipping point.” Seltzer highlights the importance of regulating data and data usage rather than regulating specific technologies and argues that “a clear-sighted strategy for ensuring end users can comprehend and control the processing of their personal data is paramount.”
Pickard, Victor. Before Net Neutrality: The Surprising 1940s Battle for Radio Freedom. The Atlantic. January 29, 2015.
- In this article, Victor Pickard, a professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses the policy battles over radio in 1940s America to inform current policy setting regarding the Internet. According to Pickard, “if history is any lesson, reforming our media system will require continued public pressure from below, and not just from political elites.” He states that the question of whether the Internet can be kept from “commercial capture” yet needs to be answered, and that “how this debate plays out may determine whether we follow the path of broadcasting or begin to create a media system worthy of its democratic promise.”
Rogers, Kaleigh. Reddit Reveals How Often It Hands Over Your Info to The Government. Vice. January 29, 2015.
- Reddit has released its first transparency report, in which it details how many government requests for information the site received in the last year. According to the report, it received 55 government requests and complied with 58% of these requests, most of which were made under US subpoenas. Subpoenas are required by Reddit for “subscriber information like IP addresses, the date an account was created, or email addresses”; however, a search warrant is necessary to gain access to private messages as well as deleted messages or comments. A key difference between and companies like Facebook and Twitter is that Reddit has stated that they “will not turn over user information in response to a formal request by a non-US government unless a US court requires it.”
Romm, Tony. White House preps expansive online privacy bill. Politico. January 28, 2015.
- The White House is preparing an online privacy bill that will restrict how companies handle consumer data while also increasing the authority of the Federal Communication Commission to police abuses. The draft bill will “require large Internet companies, online advertisers, mobile app makers and others to ask permission from consumers before collecting and sharing their most sensitive personal information, according to three sources briefed by administration officials.” The Obama administration is also proposing to give the Federal Trade Commission enforcement authority to “fine companies for privacy missteps.”
Tung, Liam. Facebook’s privacy showdown set for Vienna hearing in April. ZDNet. January 26, 2015.
- Facebook will have to appear in court in Vienna in April in a lawsuit called “Facebook versus Europe.” The class action lawsuit is led by privacy campaigner Max Schrems, and 25,000 individuals from outside US and Canada have joined the suit. The group is demanding “€500 per individual in damages from Facebook for maintaining invalid privacy policies and illegally collecting and forwarding user data while allegedly participating in the NSA’s PRISM program.” Facebook has declined to comment thus far, and according to the group, “Facebook is of the opinion that it cannot be sued” as these lawsuits are allegedly inadmissible in Ireland and Austria.
Russell, Jon. Coinbase Is Opening The First Regulated Bitcoin Exchange In The U.S. TechCrunch. January 25, 2015.
- Coinbase, a bitcoin payment firm, will be opening the first regulation bitcoin exchange in the U.S., following a $75 million funding round, with investors such as the New York Stock Exchange and USAA. This development, as well as Coinbase’s regulatory backing, is particularly significant as the “exact legality of bitcoin in the U.S. has been unclear for some time.” Currently, Coinbase offers exchange services in 19 countries, and the CEO is “keen to explore the potential of bitcoin in emerging markets, and wants the company to expand its reach to at least 30 countries overall by the end of 2015.”
The below includes both past and upcoming events. See The GovLab’s Master Events Calendar for more Internet Governance events).
Book event on Monroe Price’s Free Expression, Globalism, and the New Strategic Communication. The GovLab and the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. February 03, 2015.
- At this panel discussion, Monroe Price, Director of the Center for Global Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, “provides a timely and ambitious update of the theory of free expression in a global and digital age in his new book Free Expression, Globalism, and the New Strategic Communication.”
Netexplo Forum 2015. UNESCO. February 4-5, 2015.
- The Netexplo Forum in Paris, France “will highlight some of the most promising global innovators in digital technologies today, who are inventing new forms of education, communication, information, solidarity and management around the globe. Their innovations impact on the way the public and private sectors reflect on development, dialogue and diversity, and they influence the elaboration of new strategies and programmes.”
- In this webinar, the CWG-Stewardship responsible for developing “a transition proposal for the elements of the IANA Functions relating to domain names” will present information on its progress, as well as “key issues under consideration, in order to provide the community a preview in advance of further detailed work during the ICANN 52 Meeting in Singapore.”