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Internet Governance 6 June 2017

In Our New Changed World We Need New Tools (Remarks at Next Generation Internet Summit)

Kathryn Brown
By Kathryn BrownFormer President / CEO

On 6 June 2017, Internet Society President & CEO Kathy Brown spoke at the Opening Session of the Next Generation Internet Summit at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. These are her remarks as prepared.

Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, esteemed colleagues and friends.  

Thank you, President Bonvicini for your very gracious invitation to speak at this prescient Summit on the Next Generation Internet. 

This year marks the 25th year of the Internet Society’s advocacy for an open, secure and trusted Internet that benefits everyone, everywhere.  We were founded in 1992 by Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf who believed that a society would emerge from the idea that is the Internet.  And so it did. Today, the Internet is part of our social fabric – essential to how we connect, communicate, create and collaborate. 

We are in what Thomas Friedman, in his newest book, Thank You for Being Late, calls the Age of Acceleration. He posits that the three largest forces on our planet – technology, globalization and climate change are all accelerating at once.  As a result, as Atomium has recognized, many aspects of our societies, workplaces and geopolitics are being reshaped and need to be reimagined.

Friedman weaves the history of the convergence of supercomputing, fiber broadband, mobility, sensor technology and massive data analytics with the network technology of the Internet to describe our world today: where the rate of change and the acceleration of the rate of change both increased at the same time.  And where the slower rate at which humans have been able to adapt has created our current state of anxiety.

I highly recommend this read as it is rich in its description of the enormous benefits that have accrued to our societies and the associated disruptions and dislocations that are the topic of our conversation today.

Even as the opportunities of the Internet Age have become ever more apparent, the rate of change has some shouting “stop the world I want to get off.” 

There are those who wish to turn the clock back – some that are actively trying to do so – but it is impossible to do.

Everywhere on the globe, change is marching forward at an accelerated pace. In Africa the benefits that are so ingrained now in western economies are starting to pay dividends. In my meetings in Nairobi this past week there was a sense of hope, most especially among the young people who’s future appears radically different than it did just 5 years ago. (As an important side note, people under 30 make up 50% of the population on the African continent).  Yet, even with the sense of youthful exuberance, one can feel fear among various governments which, like those in the West, are in the midst of “disruptions” to established cultures, politics, economies and ways of working.

There and here the fear has led to calls to:

  • Shut borders
  • Build walls
  • Put the Internet under tight government control, and even to
  • Shut the Internet down

The Internet Society recently highlighted the high economic and human costs of Internet shutdowns, pointing out that unilateral technical measures are rarely appropriate tools to fix political, social, or legal issues.

Even those of us who urgently advise that fear must not win against hope know, however, that when it comes to our individual and collective safety and security just saying NO to those interventions is not enough. Hope alone is not a strategy. It will not deter the evils of terrorism and hate, criminality and fraud.  

But neither will fear.

Encryption is a current, highly relevant topic here in Europe that falls into this conundrum.

In Europe, according to Eurostat, 84% of the EU28 uses the Internet once a day.  And, because the EU has been the world’s guardian of users’ personal privacy, we have good numbers showing that upwards of 70% of Internet users in the EU provided some kind of personal information online. Given the focus on user privacy by the EU it is perhaps not a coincidence that, according to Cisco,  Western Europe followed by Central and Eastern Europe lead all other regions in the number of secure Internet servers that conduct encrypted transactions over the Internet.

As with many things, technology designed for legitimate and even laudatory reasons can be exploited by those with nefarious intent. Thus, we hear what sounds like a logical call to do away with these “safe places” for terrorists.  But it is quite evident that encrypted technologies protect the civil freedoms of many. Indeed, over two-thirds of traffic on fixed access networks in Europe is already encrypted.

I have some empathy for politicians who are facing hard, urgent problems but who don’t have the proper tools to deal with them.

The encryption quandary is like so many others in our changed world – we have embraced positive change but are not prepared for the inevitable negative side effects of that change.  Our tool box has not been updated. So, we reach for the solutions that we know – shut it down, make it accessible to government, regulate it.

But, in our new, changed world, we need new tools.

How do we begin to address this “solutions gap”?

We believe as, European Council President Donald Tusk articulated last week addressing other aspects of governing in a globalized world, that we must start by embracing our fundamental values. “The greatest task today,” President Tusk said, “is the consolidation of the whole free world around those values, not just interests. Values and principles first….”

Of course he is right. Transactional solutions may be temporarily satisfying but, in the long term – unsustainable or worse – quick fixes may exacerbate the very problem one is attempting to solve.

Europe has been a steadfast champion of the principles of the Internet: upholding the values of openness, global connectedness, trustworthiness, transparency, and inclusion. 

It is against these values that we should be designing a new policy direction. 

I have a notion that the new tools needed to solve the problems of the next ten years can be found in the innovations of the last 10 years.  

Let’s ask ourselves: how can the super computing power, sensor technology, big data, and high speed connectively that we have created help with the very disruption we have caused.

And how can the methodology of Internet innovation – creativity, cooperation, collaboration – shape sustainable solutions.

The EU has called for multistakeholder processes and procedures to develop Internet policy for over 10 years and, yet, we have not reformed how government governs in the digital age. The European Union is in, perhaps, an unexpected position, in this extraordinary year 2017, to take the lead on making good on the promise of a new governance model. 

Let’s talk for a moment about who would be your partners:

The technologists will help design the “applications” that can address the change.  While the Summit agenda points to new technologies that “disrupt” how we work, govern ourselves, and “blur” online and offline ethics, I might prefer to tilt the lens a bit and see these technologies as tools for innovation and creation of new way of governing. We might use the technique of open source standard making to inject a bias for action and agility. 

Civil society will legitimately – and passionately – insist that human rights principles must shape the guardrails that ensure that new solutions enhance and not harm our rights as citizens.

Experts from areas of economies that are now being changed by the Internet – education, medicine, agriculture, banking, transportation, and more – will want a place at the table. 

The private sector remains the engine of economic growth and innovation and without it, we would, indeed, still be living in the 1950s.  Business needs to be in the room.

And in these fraught times when freedom and security, and war and peace are ever so close to the surface of so many of our anxieties, advocates for the adherence to the rule of law and established international codes of behavior must have a clear voice.

All of these players need to come forward with a new commitment to actual problem solving that will require learning and demonstrating new skills: substituting, for instance, lobbying prowess for understanding of and willingness for collaborative consensus building. 

There is a lot to do. And governments feel the burden of the future on their shoulders.  But we need to acknowledge that when things are moving so fast, governments do not have the complex knowledge base, experience, or wisdom to go it alone.

Indeed, solutions to the changes occurring in our societies today may not be at all obvious because we have not yet done the work to fully adapt to our present circumstances.  We need an entirely different mindset – we actually have to move from managing disruption to the way things are, to inventing new frameworks for anticipating and managing the way things will be.  And to do that, the Internet Way requires that the discussions, decision making, and enforcement be inclusive and multistakeholder

As the working sessions progress, I hope the conversation can quickly move from our anxious lament that disruption and chaos is our destiny to an exploration of how to use the tools of the digital age to reboot the relationship between the governing and the governed. We must do this if we are to reap the benefits of the greatest technical advances in history – for all the people of the earth. 

Thank you! 

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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