Internet infrastructure, global technical standards and SDGs (lightning session)

6 Dec 2016 15:45h - 16:00h

Event report

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

This lightning talk, led by Mr Niels ten Oever, Head of Digital Programmes at Article 19, examined how ICANN and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) are addressing human rights issues. Mr Andrew Sullivan, Chair of the Internet Architecture Board, and Ms Lousewies van der Laan, ICANN Board member, presented the perspectives of IETF and ICANN.

ICANN and human rights

ten Oever noted that part of the IANA stewardship transition plan developed by the community was to make human rights an integral part of the ICANN Bylaws. He added that right now, the human rights bylaw was ‘bracketed’, pending implementation following the completion of the drafting of the Framework of Interpretation (FoI) currently being conducted as part of the ICANN Cross-Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG-Accountability). ten Oever encouraged participants to engage in the work of the FoI.

In response to a question about the relationship between the ICANN board and human rights, van der Laan responded that it was the community’s role to make decisions, and the board’s role to implement the community’s wishes. She noted that while the board is obliged to obey the laws of the USA, she hoped that the human rights policies decided by the ICANN community could be applicable around the world.  She also observed that the ICANN community had a diverse range of views about what human rights issues ICANN should be looking at – from freedom of expression to protection of the rights of women and LGBTQ. In response to a comment from a participant in the room, van der Laan responded that she was very happy that the community did not want ICANN to exceed its mission, and that ICANN was happy to address human rights within its scope, but issues of content regulation, etc., were outside ICANN’s mission, noting further that ‘one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist’, and that ICANN was not in a position to make such judgments.

IETF and human rights

Sullivan explained that one of the key Internet engineering values is that more Internet, and more access to the Internet is better.  This value, in turn, supports a broad range of human rights to be supported, without making value judgments about any particular human right. He noted that the IETF focuses on attacks on the network, rather than taking specific stances on specific human rights, but as network attacks are often associated with denial of access to information, etc., creating more robust networks would also help support more robust human rights online.

Sullivan explained that the IETF’s Requests for Comments (RFCs) are always open for comment and change. If the community notices that there is a problem with a protocol or standard, it can be updated, with the explicit outcome of improving network robustness, and an implicit outcome of helping support human rights.

Sullivan expressed a concern that if the Internet started being split into different types of connectivity, it would also mean the loss of the ability to apply human rights uniformly across all types of connectivity, on top of the loss of the ability to achieve the engineering value of ‘more Internet everywhere’.

by Samantha Dickinson