Co:llaboratory expert reactions to the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace

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On May 1st, 2011 the White House published a policy paper on the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace. “This is just the beginning of a conversation within governments, between governments, the private sector and beyond,” said Howard Schmidt, the White House cybersecurity coordinator, who also presented the document on the White House blog.

Various experts on Internet governance at the Berlin-based open think tank Internet & Society Co:llaboratory have analyzed the paper and expressed their views on this singular document:

“First of all we should appreciate the special role of the U.S. in the history of the Internet, after all they were very much the ones who made it happen” underlines Dr. Matthias Bärwolff. He acknowledges the difficulties of presenting a convincing strategy balancing the set of principles exposed:

Keeping the bad guys off the net (so as to maintain order on the inside and opportunities for the good guys at the ends to create value) has quickly risen in priority, especially since the Internet has become the foundation for so much commerce (both as in making money and in conversing for random reasons). The crux of the problem is of course that those two ends are mutually conflicting.

However, the role and concept of multistakeholderism depicted in the paper is considered controversial. Law professor Rolf Weber, University of Zurich, points at the ambiguity of the concept “it is mentioned indeed on page 10, although in a less prominent way than e.g. defense (pages 12 and 13) or military (pages 20 and 21). It is not clear, which weight this concept really has”.

The governmental rhetoric used conveys a top down meaning which, according to Dr. Ole Wintermann, “does not represent the essentially decentralized character of the net”. Dr. Max Senges, of the Co:llaboratory’s steering committee, goes further stating that “the Internet was never a lawless frontier. Instead it was the freedom that was the engine of innovation. Rather than taming that free space our traditional institutions should learn to use its qualities”.

In terms of legitimacy it would be preferable “to have an open international forum working on the issue of norms and principles, which is being done partially by WSIS” recommends information ethics professor Rafael Capurro. Capurro and Juliet Lodge, Professor at the Jean Monnet Centre, UK, would additionally encourage the drafting of a corresponding European strategy “since the European interpretation of terms differs widely in practice from the US, even on something as ‘simple’ as what is a biometric or an eID”.

The position of the paper on the matter of privacy remains unclear to most experts and merely focused on state interference. The concept of prosperity is also unspecific. “I miss the aspect of infrastructure support in countries that are in need of funding” says Weber. “Also the use of the term freedom omits the human rights aspect and concentrates exclusively on the protection of economic interests” continues Wintermann.

As to cybersecurity matters, too little attention is paid to the “wider capacity of non-governmental actors, including those with malevolent intent, to hijack or undermine and the ability of the state/individual to safeguard their privacy and security in cyberspace” argues Lodge. Another aspect which has not been considered enough is the ambivalence of the right to self-defense, ponders Capurro, recalling the cases of Iraq and China. Furthermore, the mention of the rule of law regarding enforceability “is an important sign, although the term does encompass more than cybercrime”, underlines Weber.

This directly leads to the question of international accountability, which is “completely missing”, declares Capurro. He suggests to change the rather protection oriented line of the discourse into a positive one by addressing the capabilities and potential of the Internet as part of the solution to the millennium goals like hunger or illness.

In all, the experts of the Co:llaboratory welcome this high-profile document about the state of the Internet, since it addresses some of the near-term political challenges and its corresponding problems. “It may help trigger a debate about governance beyond ICANN type of issues (domain names and such) which tend to dominate many debates on Internet governance”, concludes Bärwolff, “finding ways to have all stakeholders agree on those matters and have them act in some coordinated fashion has never been easy, and it won’t be in the future, but it is certainly worth trying”.

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Sebastian Haselbeck

Sebastian ist derzeit Geschäftsführer des Collaboratory e.V.

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