IGF 2021 – Day 4 – Lightning Talk #24 The Internet as a Public Utility

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF virtual intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.



>> We all live in a digital world.

We all need it to be open and safe.

We all want to trust.

>> And to be trusted.

>> We all despise control.

>> And desire freedom.

>> We are all united!

>> MITZI LASZLO: Welcome, everybody, my name is Mitzi Laszlo.  Thank you for coming, especially on a Friday afternoon.  I imagine you have seen a lot of talks this week already.  My background is in neuroscience.  I studied decision‑making and was frustrated, basically at not being able to access big data for public health.  So I came back to Europe.  I was in Brazil at the time, and worked for the European Commission as an independent advisor for age 2020.

Later, went on to work as the third employee for Solid, the start‑up of the interventor of the web.  And more recently, I have been an independent consultant for executives around strategy and cybersecurity, and I have been carrying out some research, which I hope one day to structure as a Ph.D.  I wanted to share a bit of that research, mainly with the intention to spark debate about computational infrastructure and the public interest and what that would look like.

Everything is digitalizing.  It is impossible to enter restaurants without a QR code, realistically manage your bank account or speak to your local authorities without access to the Internet.  And when we digitalize, we become dependent on a lot of stuff.  This is my local data center, which I see when I go to the park, and it's full of databases that look like this, which connect to submarine cables that run under our oceans in a vast network.  And that's only the physical enough.  There's also immaterial stuff, like code.  The code that is necessary for you to be able to login is ultimately made and ‑‑ is bill and also maintained by someone, as are standards that describe how to send and receive data in a way that could be read.

A lot of this stuff is controlled by private corporations, particularly in the USA and China, that's quite a radical shift, because it used to be that computation was done by the state, by the nation state.  Today, the calculator is controlled by private corporations.

Even GCHQ, the UK intelligence relies on Amazon Web Services which means they can to the carry out their stated mission without some sort of interaction with a private foreign entity.  It speaks volumes that the Dutch government has a whole department to take care of Microsoft contracts.  In 2018, they carried out an investigation and came to the conclusion that Microsoft, essentially, as controller could determine how data was processed independently without any kind of consultation of the Dutch government.

Similarly, in Sweden, there was a big debate about if storing government documents on the cloud constituted a breach because of the Cloud Act.  The US government could, in theory, access Swedish government documentation.

We are not even beginning to talk about Apple Pay, Mastercard, Visa, there are not European equivalents.  This is a pretty core element of the nation state cannot happen without some kind of interaction with foreign private entities.

I don't want to ‑‑ you know, all the examples I'm giving are very concentrated on European dependence on the USA but I don't want to give the impression that it would be solved if this would be brought nationally.  This is a screen shot from a platform used to make doctor's appointments here in Amsterdam where I'm living and working.  All your patient data is stored on this platform, and it's a private company.  There is a Dutch bank who is a stakeholder in this company, and it raises a lot of questions.  I mean, what if Dutch medical records are used to adapt insurance packages or credit scores?  What are the dependencies?  Are what the strategic risks that happen when this new player is present in public health systems?

The ‑‑ the debate that I want to raise is really about the relationship between the private and the public sector when digitalizing.

So a lot of early investment in the innovation, such as GPS, touch screen, the web itself, was ‑‑ wasn't paid for by the public.  Also, a lot of the infrastructure in part is paid for by the public, but the public does not control this infrastructure.  They are dependent on this infrastructure, and the parties that do control it often do not pay tax.  So I want to really talk about the legitimacy of that control and what kind of strategic risk we run into and if we can imagine a scenario where it's treated more as a public utility on a global level.  There have been historical precedence of making elements of infrastructure public rather than private.

Adam Smith in the 1700s was very actively lobbying to make roads public.  In his time, private players would build the road, and there would be a toll on the road, and to use the road, you had to pay the person to ‑‑ to get access.

And this meant that people who had apples could not necessarily get to the place where apples could be bought.  And it's a blocker.  So in the logic of Adam Smith and his colleagues, he was pursuing, a publicly funded road that would act as a multiplier for trade.

My particular interest is around public health still.  That's where I started and that's where I still lie.  I don't want to dismiss the value of computational infrastructure.  I want to talk about the governance of it in a way that would make it useful for the public.

I hope I have sparked your imagination a little bit, and would love to hear your thoughts and have an open debate about this.  Thank you.

If there any questions, feel free to drop them in the chat or let them know.  I'm not sure if you have the ability to unmute.

All right.  If there are no questions, I believe that's the end of my talk.  I will leave the channel open and keep the conversation going.  I hope I tickled your imagination.  I would imagine that you are a little overwhelmed with all the talks have you seen this week.

Thank you for coming.