IGF 2019 WS #413 Human Values in Internet Protocols: What Can Be Done

Organizer 1: Bradley Fidler, Stevens Institute of Technology
Organizer 2: Avri Doria,
Organizer 3: Alyssa Moore, Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA)

Speaker 1: Farzaneh Badii, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Avri Doria, ,
Speaker 3: cath corinne, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Bradley Fidler, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

Human values and protocol design: What is the relationship between political values, such as human rights, and Internet protocols? Do certain Internet protocols have universal impacts on our politics, regardless of where they are used--or are the impacts of protocols on human rights more context dependent? What does the global history of the Internet teach us about the relationship between political values and Internet protocols? Insofar as protocols do impact our politics, is it possible to design protocols with explicit political commitments in mind? If so, what would the role of Internet organizations in this work? How would they maintain global support and legitimacy in such a practice?

Relevance to Theme: Security, safety, stability, and resilience are each features of the Internet that i) are consciously designed, ii) involve both technologies and organizations, and iii) respond to the needs of certain political values. Narrower technical definitions of these terms, which prevailed during the early years of the Internet, are giving way to broader, societal definitions that involve both technology and the social orders with which it intersects. To pursue any of these goals, then, we should be clear about the extent to which their societal components can be furthered with technical design, and the extent to which they cannot.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Internet Governance deals not only with technical standards but with “shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.” The globalization of Internet governance has not simply expanded the Internet: its globalization has also brought the world’s political values to bear on the Internet’s design. Historically, Internet protocols have often been assumed to further some variant of American values--a claim made explicitly in the US National Cyber Strategy--although developments of the last decade or more have demonstrated, instead, the that Internet can support multiple, and even conflicting, political values. Today, the question is how the Internet can be made to support which political values, through a combination of governance, administration, and redesign. Our debate will be on the possibilities of redesign, what opportunities it can provide, and what it means for the future of the Internet and Internet Governance.
This proposed debate will be about the extent to which principles, norms, and rules can be furthered through technological design. Already, this topic has been pursued as a research and policy agenda through the Human Rights Protocol Considerations (HRPC) Working Group at the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) (initially through the work of Corinne Cath, a participant in this proposed debate, among others). We hope to broaden this discussion of the relationship between political values and Internet protocols beyond the IRTF and its peer organization the Internet Engineering Task Force ( IETF), and make it a global topic of discussion. This discussion is already underway in governments, activist groups, academia, and private firms: we hope to make it explicit, and global, at the IGF.
This debate is not about which political values we should attempt to further through technological design. Rather, it is about the conditions and possibilities for doing so, questions that intersect both research and policy: i) what do we know about the relationship between values and protocols, ii) what can this knowledge accomplish, and iii) what should we do about it? The first point, our knowledge about the relationship between values and protocols, is important because it is the basis for any positive program of change. Are there strong historical precedents for a protocol furthering a specific set of political values? Without such a precedent, can there be a program? Already, debate is forming over the history of protocols and how they can inform present-day action. The second point concerns what we might be able to accomplish with this information. If some Internet protocols have demonstrated an ability to further specific political values, then is it possible to design protocols with future political objectives in mind--or are we limited to retrospective analysis? Finally, the third point concerns the role for such activity in Internet Governance today. Purely technical organizations appear to lack the global legitimacy that would be required to push political programs through technical design: which organizations would be up to the task? Would they require different, or broader, mandates?
Ultimately, should the practice of Internet Governance include the explicit political considerations of protocol design?


Debate - Auditorium - 90 Min

Description: This debate is structured around the following question: given that Internet protocols have political implications, should prospective political implications be institutionalized as part of protocol development by standards bodies? This question requires a stance on the three issues above: what lessons we have learned from the past, what those lessons tell us about what is possible today, and the resultant potential roles for Internet Governance organizations. The objective of the debate is to alter the audience opinion from the original baseline (as detailed below).

Our session begins with an introduction by the moderator, and a concise, ten minute presentation by each speaker on their position on the issue. Broadly speaking, two confirmed participants support these political considerations, and two oppose them. Following these statements, the moderators will poll the in-person and online audience and determine the ratio of support for each position, and inform the audience that the objective of this debate -- through the work of the speakers and the audience -- is to shift opinion, which will be measured again at the end of the session. This will allow us to evaluate the course of the debate, and increase audience buy-in.

Next, each speaker will be provided with five minutes each to respond to the other speaker's opening statements. Following this, the moderators will structure a mix of online and offline discussion, with comments or questions (so long as they are directed at a speaker) limited to one minute per audience participant comment (multiple but not limitless comments will be allowed from individual audience members). At the conclusion of the session, a new poll of audience opinion will be taken and the outcome of the debate summarized by the moderator: the benefits and trade-offs of each position.

Expected Outcomes: We want to use debate to focus a diverse community on the opportunities and challenges that lie in attempts to further political goals through technical design. This includes, mainly, if such activities are possible and reliable, and if so, how might they be institutionalized in the Internet Governance community.

Onsite Moderator: 

Alyssa Moore, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator: 

Alyssa Moore, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Farzaneh Badii, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Discussion Facilitation: 

Prior to and during the session we will use social media (as well as traditional platforms, such as listservs) to post information about the debate. We will draw on our media contacts to draw attention to this new format, and experiment with drawing in more public participation at the promise of a lively debate.

Online Participation: 

In advance of the session, we will publicize this tool and encourage participation. Due to the novel kind of panel, we are optimistic that we can drive online participation in ways that would not be possible with a typical panel.

Proposed Additional Tools: Our online moderator will draw in participation from Twitter and Mastodon. We are investigating the possibility of attempting similar on Weibo.


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