GigaNet symposium

5 Dec 2016 10:00h - 19:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

Ms Rachel Pollack Ichou, Project Officer, Communication and Information Sector at UNESCO, focused on algorithmic transparency by addressing two topical issues: the key role of search engines in access to information and the growing importance of algorithms.

Searches are never neutral, something that makes the transparency of search algorithms even more important.

But how can we achieve transparency when the algorithm is a carefully guarded secret for companies such as Google.

Transparency plays an interesting role in Google’s modus operandus. While it is very transparent with regard to government requests to remove websites from Google research, it is very secretive when it comes to its search engine algorithm. So much so that some companies have  started lobbying for a ‘fair search policy’.

According to Pollack Ichou, technical community is of the opinion thatalgorithm transparency will become pointless given the complexity of the code and interrelated applications.

He concluded that there won’t be any regulatory requirement for search algorithm transparency due to intellectual property rights and overall business interests.

Ms Isadora Hellegren of McGill University, Montréal, discussed crypto-discourse from its origins related to the early days of the anti-Vietnam War movement. She describes crypto-discourse as individuals’ responsibility to protect themselves and their online communication through technological means from undue interference by state authorities or corporations. She followed the evolution of cyber-discourse in our era via Wikileaks and the Snowden revelations. The last phase in this evolution was the Apple-FBI controversy. She referred to ‘crypto’ as an empty signifier that can have several meanings till it becomes meaningless. It is an important contribution to the language of Internet governance, something that is not researched enough.

[During the IGF, Diplo will use a prefix monitor to follow how prefixes such as cyber, digital, e, net, and online are used in different policy contexts, from security to the economy and human rights.]

Finally, Hellegren argued that context is the key in evaluating encryption and protection of privacy. ‘Surveillance is not the same in Germany and USA,’ she said. In discussion, the view that context matters was strengthened.

Mr Brandie Nonnecke, Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at UC Berkeley, discussed crowdsourcing platforms using the example of the use of the IDEA platform by ICANN. He deployed 5 main criteria for analysing the IDEA platform: accountability, inclusiveness, transparency, modularity, and synthesis.

Messrs Markus Oermann and Wolfgang Schulz presented a research project that applied social constructivist literature on governance to Internet governance. Their research focused on processes in governance and governance in the configuration of organisations. In particular, they focused on the governance aspects of the right to be forgotten.

Ms Patricia Vargas-Leon, Syracuse University School of Information Studies, discussed the parallels between the Law of the Sea and Internet governance, something that is  frequently (mis)used. She made an interesting parallel with maritime sovereignty, which is gradual moving from territorial waters to the high seas. She clearly pointed out that using the Law of the Sea as inspiration for Internet regulation would require respect for national sovereignty and the role of states. Ultimately, the UNCLOS model would oppose a multistakeholder approach.

Vargas-Leon focused on hot pursuit in the Law of the Sea, a mechanism to fight illegal activities. Hot pursuit is very common in non-sovereignty areas, but once sovereignty is involved, hot pursuit must stop regardless of the gravity of the crime. It is another reminder of centrality, of the principle of sovereignty in the Law of the Sea.

Mr Nicolas Suzor, Faculty of Law at Queensland University, introduced a project on digital constitutionalism aiming at discussing the concept of legitimacy in the Internet field. He focused on Internet platforms. He proposed three elements that should lead towards legitimacy:

‘The first is meaningful consent.  That rules are clear.  That there is genuine consultation on changes.  That there are real opportunities to exit systems.

The second is about equality and predictability.  The decisions are not arbitrary.  The rules are fairly and equally enforced and that rules are stable enough to guide behavior.

The third is about due process, that there are reasons available upon which decisions are made, that participants have some access to some avenue of appeal and independent review.’

One of the main problems in this research is the lack of information on how Internet private companies make decisions. Thus transparency is probably the first step in addressing the question of legitimacy.

Mr Michael Dick, University of Toronto, Canada, provided an analysis of the reform of the Canadian Intellectual Property Regulation through the adoption of the WIPO conventions.

Prof. Jeanette Hofmann from Germany presented a paper of the origins of the IGF during the WSIS process which combined her personal experience of the process and theoretical analysis. According to her, there are three potential explanations about the origin of the IGF.

First is a functional one which argues that the IGF emerged because of coordination problems that required solutions.

The second is a normative one, finding origins of the IGF in normative explanations: to secure peace, increase participation, welfare, transparency, etc.

The third looks at the process that brought about the new organisation. This process was not as rational as some post-factum explanations have argued. There was no ‘grand vision’ or master plan.

In addition, WSIS was not supposed to create a new organisation. The most powerful actor (USA) was against any multilateral institutionalisation in Internet governance.

In Hofmann’s view, the formation of the IGF could be explained by fear theory, which created ZOPA (a zone of possible agreement).

Ms Anya Orlova, Freie University of Berlin, and Ms Efrat Daskal, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, discussed participation of youth in the IGF. They highlighted a lack of awareness, education, and money as the key elements for low participation of youth in the IGF.

Keisure Kamimura delivered a presentation of gTLDs from the perspective of the behaviour of users.

Kimberly Anastacio, ‎Political Scientist at the ‎Beta Institute for Internet and Democracy in Brazil, discussed digital colonialism. She argued that despite enabling achievements and the potential of the Internet, the pre-Internet distribution of power not only remains but is also becoming stronger in the Internet era.  In her analysis, she focused on Facebook’s programme of Free  Basics in India and other developing countries.

Citizen Lab research officers Ms Irene Poetranto and Mr Adam Senft discussed Internet governance in Thailand.

Ms Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research ICT Africa,  presented ICT policy and regulatory research network across 27 African countries.

by Jovan Kurbalija