December 14, 2012

Beware Godzilla Sleeping: The ITU's Internet Fiasco

A mainstay of science-fiction and horror films is the monster that you're led to believe has been vanquished, but reappears in even more horrific form (sometimes bringing along "friends" as well) in the final scene, or the sequels, or often both.

Godzilla appears to sink back into the sea to leave a battered Tokyo in peace, but he's merely snoozing, dreaming happy dreams of future destruction.

It's worth keeping Godzilla in mind as we scan reports of the ITU's new telecom treaty, which despite a glowing ITU press release was quite properly not signed by the U.S. and many other countries, rendering the entire exercise not even a Pyrrhic victory for the ITU.

The result is that we stand today regarding the open Internet in much the same place we stood a couple of weeks ago before the ITU's WCIT meeting in Dubai even began.

But like Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, we had to do an awful lot of running to end up very close to where we started. And while this can be celebrated in the short run, in the long run it is a very worrisome place to be.

Virtually all of the dangerous dynamics that we've talked about many times in the past -- which led us to this point -- still remain in play.

The existing DNS (Domain Name System) continues to be a focal point of contention. ICANN's escalating mismanagement of the Internet's naming resources, culminating in their extortionist, damaging, and nightmarishly mutating gTLD expansion scheme -- designed to enrich the existing domain-industrial complex -- has driven a stake through the heart of any possible global cooperation in this area.

The DNS has been warped from a simple addressing tool into a truncheon of copyright and censorship enforcement -- with the U.S. leading the way with both related police actions without normal due process, and the insane filings of millions of often hilariously inaccurate takedown demands with Google and others, made all the worse since there usually are no effective penalties for false takedown filings.

Governments around the world continue to eye the Internet and the open communications it fosters to be primarily a threat, with its technology ripe for surveillance, and its users to be controlled, censored, flogged, imprisoned, and even worse. The ITU's newfound fetish for DPI -- Deep Packet Inspection -- makes the wet dreams of tyrants and others in this sphere all the more explicit.

These dynamics are continuing going forward. The risks of Internet censorship, fragmentation, and other severe damage to the Internet we've worked so hard to build will continue to be exacerbated, despite our holding the ITU pretty much at bay this time around.

It's not as if better paths forward have not been suggested in the past. But in answer to most such suggestions, the response has usually been fear of tampering with the status quo, tied to concerns that any changes might end up being worse than the de facto situation in which we find ourselves today.

But as we've now seen with dramatic clarity, the current situation is not likely to be stable in the long run. It is in fact highly unstable, and the risks of this instability ripping the Internet apart in fundamental ways are now worse than ever.

In the past we've talked about the possibility of creating new, purpose-built multi-stakeholder organizations to better serve the entire Internet community -- not just the relatively few lucky entities currently suckling the bulk of the bucks from the DNS gravy train.

Alternatives to the existing DNS -- secure, fully distributed systems for Internet naming and addressing -- such as IDONS and others -- have already been proposed, and could potentially eliminate billions of dollars in associated waste, while simultaneously ending the kinds of naming and DNS abuse problems that now seem synonymous with the existing DNS ecosystem.

Pervasive Internet encryption systems -- that would make Internet connections routinely far more secure from attacks and surveillance abuses -- are possible but resisted, often in concert with much the same kinds of arguments that tyrants have spouted since the dawn of civilization.

The despicable behavior of ITU leadership at WCIT is but a shadow of what the future may be like, unless we seriously take proactive actions now to protect the global, open Internet -- and the open access to information and communications that it engenders -- against those forces who would turn the Net into a tool of political, economic, and other forms of oppression.

The Internet Godzilla may be heading off to sleep for now. But he'll be back, along with his brethren and multitude of minions as well.

And if we haven't prepared, if we haven't taken action by then -- woe to us all.


Posted by Lauren at December 14, 2012 11:25 AM | Permalink
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