Pas Parler?

Will the real Internet government please stand up?

Parler in Prison

This weekend, Google, Apple, and Amazon all took steps to remove the right wing conspiracy web site Parler from their services, steps that will cripple the social media site for some some period of time. In many ways, Parler had it coming to them. Amazon in particular alleged that Parler refused to take prompt action to remove abusive content that violated their terms of service.

In response, my right wing friends have gone nearly indiscriminately crazy, complaining that their 1st Amendment rights have been violated. Let’s review that amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment I of the U.S. Constitution.

In other words, Congress cannot stop someone from speaking. But these companies are not Congress, nor an arm of the U.S. government. We could, however, say that they are a form of government, in as much as these companies, along with a small number of other ones, such as TikTok control societal discourse. What rules would govern them if they decided that was also not to their liking? Could these services exclude content that criticizes them?

Parler is a relative newcomer. Much in the same way that Fox News has lost its conservative gleam to NewsMax, Facebook and Twitter lost their gleam when they started applying editorial control to posts. They did this because they gauged societal harm against whatever short term revenue they were collecting from the likes of Donald Trump. There was seemingly no reason they had to, at least in the United States. U.S. Law says this:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

47 USC § 230

Meddle with this rule at your peril. If we shift the burden of policing to online services, social media sites as we know them will cease to be, GMail and Yahoo! mail would be imperiled, and Amazon could no longer offer customer reviews. If there is a middle ground to be found, then scale factors must be considered. Any middle ground may well increase the risks of starting up new services. If the price of entry for a new Facebook or Twitter competitor is fancy artificial intelligence systems and patents, then we may have done ourselves no service in the long run.

The United Social Networks Nations
The United Social Networks Nations

There are other consequences to Apple and Google removing Parler from their respective phone and tablet stores: I saw one conversation in which someone was describing to her friends how to turn off automatic software updates. Software updates are the means by which developers correct vulnerabilities they have created. By disabling those updates, people leave themselves vulnerable to attack.

Today Parler is losing its voice, arguably for very deserved reasons. Tomorrow, some other site might lose its access. Will those reasons be just as good and who will decide?

IANA Transition is on track for protocol parameters

In March of this year U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling announced the administration’s desire to withdraw from its oversight role over Internet naming, numbering, and protocol parameters.  In that announcement he called for the community to come up with a proposal that I can submit through ICANN.  Since that time, the community organized the IANA Coordination Group, develop a timeline, rolled up our sleeves, and got to work.

Now the first part of the proposal is nearly ready. The Internet Engineering Task Force who are responsible for policies relating protocol parameters has issued a last call on the draft that will be submitted to the ICG.  Both the  naming and  number and communities are not far behind.

It was disappointing yesterday to see Gordon Crovitz complaining about a lack of progress in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, attempting to get the blame on President Obama.   Crovitz acknowledged that nothing was broken. I agree.  In fact in the process of developing the IETF part of the proposal, not a single person complained about the operational performance of the IANA staff. When a government role isn’t needed, it shouldn’t be performed, since it just costs U.S. taxpayer money.  Oddly in this instance, Mr. Crovitz likes big government.

Mr. Crovitz also asserted that the NTIA direction would put the IANA functions into the hands of other governments.  In point of fact all the proposals are being developed by the private sector, and the Internet technical community. While other governments may not trust United States to manage domain names, they do trust the private sector to do so.  Sec. Strickling’s deft move provided strong support for United States positions at the recent ITU plenipotentiary conference in Busan, South Korea, that kept excessive government control of the Internet at bay.

Since we’re not in a hurry to fix something we might as well get the job done right so that the transition can succeed.  The issues around Internet governance are complex and require serious consideration.  While all institutions such as ICANN hold a public trust, abuse should only be heaped on them when it’s deserved.  Today it was not.    Instead what we saw it was a vindictive commentator attempting to score cheap political points against the administration at the expense of hard-working people and the long term interests of the Internet as a whole.

But don’t let the facts get in the way of good column.

Failure in Dubai: WCIT falls apart

After over a year’s worth of preparation on the part of nearly every country on earth, today the WCIT conference fell apart, with the U.S., Canada, UK, and other countries refusing to sign the new International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs).  They all had good reason to not sign.

Never fear!  The Internet is still here and open for business.  Treaties have failed before and yet the world goes on.

This treaty-

  • put into play regulation of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and would have required governments to impose international obligations on them.
  • attempted to add claims about human rights,
  • challenged the role of the U.N. security council, and whether U.N. sanctions could apply to telecommunications.
  • went headlong into cybersecurity and spam, without any real basis or understanding for what it would mean to do so.
  • worst of all ran headlong into Internet governance, challenging the flexible approach that has grown the network from nothing to 2.5 billion people.

This was never going to be an easy conference.  It has been clear for many years that the developing world has very different views from the developed world, and the views of Russia, China, and Iran are quite different from those of the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  In the end, the gulf between these worlds was too great.

I extend my sincere thanks to those who spent many tireless hours in Dubai in defense of the Internet.  A partial list includes Markus Kummer, Sally Wentworth, Karen Mulberry, and Leslie Daigle of the Internet Society; Chip Sharp, KY Hong, Hosein Badran, and Robert Pepper of Cisco Systems; Adam Gosling of APNIC; Patrik Fältström of NetNod; Phil Rushton of BT; Mike Blanche, Sarah Falvey,and Aparna Sridhar of Google; Tom Walsh of Juniper; Anders Jonsson of the Swedish Administration; Dr. Richard Beaird, James Ennis, Vernita Harris, Ashley Heineman, Joanne Wilson, Franz Zichy, and many others from the American Administration; and Dr. Bruce Gracie, Avellaneda, and Martin Proulx from the Canadian administration.

These people spent many weeks away from their families, both in Dubai and in preparation.  This was not the result they were hoping for.

A special thanks to Vint Cerf, who travels the earth to keep the Internet bringing communications to all.

What’s WCIT about? It depends on who you ask.

This week the World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) began with a remarkable and important declaration from the Secretary General, Dr. Hamadoun Touré:

And WCIT is not about Internet governance.  WCIT is about making sure that we connect the billion people without access to mobile telephony, and that we connect the 4.5 billion people who are still off line.

Let’s first take a moment to celebrate the fact that 2.5 billion people have access to the Internet, and that the rate of Internet penetration has grown at a rate of 14% over the last few years to 35%, according to the ITU’s own numbers.  That’s great news, and it leads to a question: how shall WCIT focus on improving on that number?   How have the International Telecommunication Regulations that have served 2.5 billion people not served the other 4.5 billion?

Unfortunately, none of the proposals that have been made available actually focus on this very problem.  Instead, at least one prominent proposal from Russia focuses on… Internet governance.  Let’s wish the Secretary General great success in persuading Russia and other governments that indeed that is not what this conference is about.