Sobre la gobernanza en internet


We all know how important the Internet is but there is a question we seldom ask ourselves: How is it controlled? One might think that the Internet is totally free and open, but this is not quite true. For example, we’ve all seen that message that says “this video is not available in your country.” If “nobody” controls the Internet, how does this happen? Before tackling these questions, we must first answer this one: What exactly is the Internet? We call it “the cloud,” we talk about “uploading” or “downloading” information yet these metaphors are not quite accurate If anything, the Internet is a network of networks, but this is not enough to clarify the matter. Let’s put it this way: When we talk about the Internet, we are talking about three different things — three layers– The first one contains the infrastructure: Cables, huge interoceanic underwater cables, used to carry information On top of that, are the servers, which are basically computers that store a lot of information. These servers are connected to the Internet, or more specifically, interconnected by the Internet, interconnected by the Internet. It is not wrong to say we are all connected as well, but it’s more accurate to say we have access to that network. There are companies — usually, telecommunications companies — who allow us to use their Internet connections. The second layer is made of communication protocols. Those cables and those computers would be useless if there where no rules determining how information is sent between different points in the network. We hardly ever hear about the invention of the Internet because strictly speaking it was not a new technology, as television and radio. We already had computers and phone cables without the Internet. What was missing were the defining rules for communication. That is what we mean when we talk about protocols. Internet Protocol is perhaps the most famous of these, used to distinguish between information packet origins. Thus we have IP addresses. Finally, the third layer is the one that we know best: The information itself. Since servers containing all this information are connected, in a practical sense, one could say that this video, for example, is “in” the Internet. The network of networks has grown and keeps growing at an astounding speed thanks to the voluntary participation of multiple actors like governments, private companies, academic and technological communities, as well as civil society. The Internet architecture, decentralized and open by design, resulted in a partnership model that works on the basis of mutual benefit; Stakeholders simply choose to participate. This is where the Internet governance emerges. That is, the issues related to “the development and application of principles, standards, rules, procedures and programs shaping the Internet’s evolution and use. For the uninitiated, we use the term “governance” and not “government” because the latter implies a centralized model, while the Internet is just the opposite. At first, Internet governance was an issue that only dealt with communication protocols. But as the layers are closely related, nowadays, we use a broader definition that includes a list of controversial issues, remarking such as governments, institutions and individuals security, free speech, copyright, human rights, trademarks, trade interactions. It is no small matter!. How did we get to this point? the answer is it was inevitable. The more important the Internet has become, the more delicate the questions involving the evolution of this medium Ttime came in the nineties when two incidents changed Internet governance. First, the bodies responsible for coordinating the second layer –Protocols– could no longer keep the low profile they originally had. The domain name system is somewhat kin to a “master phonebook” for the Internet. For many years, Internet had a kind of benevolent dictator. Jon Postel was one of those characters with a beard and sandals who silently changed the world. He could basically decide which domains existed which ones did not exist. No doubt, this man had a huge amount of power. When the issue caught enough attention, the US government showed much greater interest in it. This caused a failed attempt at resistance by the technical community led by Postel. In the end, a new private organization was created, responsible for coordinating the Internet domains usage –The ICANN–. The fact that this organization operates under the jurisdiction of the US state of California has sparked huge controversy worldwide. Other governments have repeatedly said that the UN should oversee ICANN’s decisions. But the United States disagrees paradoxically, arguing that subjugating the Internet principles to government principles undermines the open model that has worked so far. The issue is highly controversial, because The US government itself has altered certain decisions made by ICANN. The second incident that changed the Internet governance scenario was the implementation of new protocols that made it possible to track a user’s location. The geography is not important when the issue is to send information packages but also is a util criterion to decide wich packages want be sent. The main motivation to integrate this tools was not Internet control but also the comercial potential that can be exploded making gepgraphical dinstinctions. Theleyend says that somebody from Yahoo, visiting France, saw a web site with publicity about flowers sales In New York and became awake it was ridiculus do not make anything. How location systems works? We know where the servers are, basically ’cause they are into big buildings, but not when users are. So, what the system makes is to take automatic notes of all servers which an information package pass when this is moving through the net, crossing databases references is possible to deduce the user location. The repercussions of this change were huge. Generaly speaking from this moment came the posibility of each government to control what is happening in their territory without the rest of the world being affected, at least in theory. The strategy to geographically alter information is simple: when a government wants jurisdiction over what circulates on the internet, they concentrate their efforts on the different intermediaries that make possible the movement of that information. Thus, for example, someone can open a casino or a child pornography business and locate the servers in a small corner of the world that best suits them, but the credit card companies must abide by the jurisdiction of the countries in which they are located and they can’t offer their payment services if they demand otherwise. The same thing happens with whatever type of private business that serves as an intermediary. A few years ago, Google had to remove a Danish web page from its search results in the United States that published the secret texts of Scientology. Scientologists didn’t want that information to circulate and, strategically, they appealed on copyright grounds to censure the texts. You cannot control the Internet as such, but the principle of sovereignty gives power to governments over intermediaries and, in turn, they have power over what happens on the network. We’re not saying that the influence of governments is negative or positive. Cases can be found to defend both stances. The point is much simpler: something that wasn’t previously possible is now possible, and as a result, the information available on the Internet isn’t the same for every country. The most extreme case is that of Chine, but we’ll leave that for another occasion. So then, who controls the Internet? It would be easy to suppose that governance is a topic that is discussed at the level of nations, but due to the history and architecture of this medium, we recognize that the actors involved aren’t only the governments, rather they are also private businesses, technological communities and civil society. For this very reason, many of the protocol regulating organizations obey a model of “multistakeholder” governance — another cumbersome concept, like governance, that we don’t know how to deal with. Which is to say that the representatives of the distinct sectors participate in the decision making about what happens in the second layer through organisms like ICANN. Nevertheless, between the model of governance with representatives of different sectors and the model of negotiations at the State level, there exists a tension because those organizations that safeguard the development and functioning of the Internet, ultimately, must report back to the United States. One of the great debates at the U.N. level is precisely over the authority that the rest of the world governments lack in relation to the Internet protocols. In any case, we’ve already seen that the rest of the governments count on an arsenal of tactics to indirectly influence what happens on the Internet within their countries, even though the repercussions are reaped at an international level. Finally, as an initiative to combat these tensions, since 2005 a forum for Internet governance has existed, in which we, as a civil society, have the possibility to participate on a level playing field with the private sector, the technical experts and the government representatives. The forum was launched by the U.N. and it takes place in a new city each year. There they discuss all the previously mentioned issues. Despite the forum’s lack of decisive power, it’s a space for dialogue that legitimizes the multistakeholder model and thus provides the possibility of an free encounter amongst all of the actors. . . .

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