Summer Doctoral Program(me) Comes to Cambridge

In the course of the past 5 academic years, I’ve come to think that one of my favorite things that happens in our little world is the Summer Doctoral Program (or, Programme, as our friends at the Oxford Internet Institute, the OII). Three of the past five years it’s been in Oxford, where it was established by Bill Dutton and his team at the OII. Two years ago, it was in Beijing. This year, for the first time, it’s on American soil here at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.

The SDP is for graduate students in Internet studies. The vast majority of students are ph.d. students. A few are lawyers, studying perhaps for a j.d. or an s.j.d. The 30+ members of the group are from many different places: this year’s group has every region of the world represented, I think. It’s a fun, interesting, serious two weeks of talking about our work, our areas of interest in future, our methodologies, and lots of other things.

It’s useful to me personally on many levels. I love to hear what 30+ ph.d. students are puzzling over. One of the big trends since 2003 has been the growth of projects related to web 2.0 and blogging and Wikipedia and so forth; the corresponding trend down has been the decrease in projects on copyright, DRM, and related concepts. Another big benefit is spending reflective time with these smart people as well as with my colleagues at OII (like Bill and Jonathan Zittrain), the University of St. Gallen (Urs Gasser and his team), and other guest faculty who join us (this year, a whole slew of Berkman fellows — Bill McGeveran and Dan Gillmor are already here; Henry Jenkins from MIT, and many other great people).

Expect lots of blogging, especially from Ismael of ICTology and the UOC in Barcelona. He’s working up a bibliography here, which I expect will become a great one.

OpenNet Initiative Study, New Web Site Released

I couldn’t be more excited about the release today of our new ONI web site and the release of our first global study.  We’re here in Oxford, England, at what my colleague Ron Deibert calls “the first ONI Woodstock, without the drugs.”  The headline of the study is a substantial growth in the scale, scope and sophistication of Internet filtering worldwide, in 25 of the 41 states in which we tested.

OpenNet Initiative Conference, Study Release This Week

We’re gearing up this week to host our first big Internet filtering conference this week, which is already oversubscribed. The event is taking place in Oxford, England, hosted by our partners at the Oxford Internet Institute, in cooperation with our other partners at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and the University of Cambridge’s Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme. At this event, we will release the full set of data from the first-ever global survey of Internet filtering. In many ways, this release is the culmination of five years of work, since the ONI partners began testing for Internet filtering back in about 2002. The work is thanks to a number of grants, most notably a $3 million grant to ONI from the MacArthur Foundation, as well as key gifts from OSI, IDRC, the Ford Foundation, and others.

Feel free to add a question for discussion to the online question tool.

An even more complete version of this story, including chapters that set the data in context, will appear in our book, Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Internet Politics, will be released this fall by MIT Press.

Summer Doctoral Programme 2007 Application Period Open

One of my favorite parts of the year is the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme that takes place in the seond half of July. For the past several years, the Berkman Center has partnered with OII on this programme. We’ve sent faculty and students every year. The especially cool part for this year is that it will take place not in Oxford or Beijing, but in Cambridge, MA, at the Berkman Center. We couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to host this event.

So, starting immediately, we’re accepting applications for graduate students to participate in SDP 2007. As you can see from the site, “Thirty places are available, open to students from any discipline who are currently undertaking doctoral research on social, political, legal and economic issues relating to the Internet. Preference will be given to students at an advanced stage of their doctorate, who have embarked on writing their thesis, and who are working in a research area that corresponds to one of the OII’s research priorities or the Berkman’s research priorities.” Don’t be scared off if you are a lawyer or in another professional-type degree program; some of the best students in the past have been lawyers, for instance.

Applications are due by February 12, 2007. The application form is here.

The Internet Governance Forum

A week or so ago, we at the Berkman Center joined our friends and colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute in hosting an academic pre-briefing related to the Internet Governance Forum. The IGF, announced in July by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, is the process and institution that has grown out of the two phases of the World Summit on the Information Society. The IGF is directed by the highly able Swiss diplomat, Markus Kummer, and chaired by the equally able Nitin Desai. The OII’s director, Prof. Bill Dutton, has been leading the way on these briefings for the past three years and gently, appropriately, helpfully, keeping academics and technologists in front of the diplomats. On our end, fellow Mary Rundle — jointly at Harvard and at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and director of NetDialogue — coordinates our efforts in this space and pulled together major aspects of this briefing.

In listening to the participants in an academic-heavy workshop, we heard a number of areas on which the Internet Governance Forum ought to focus and some hard problems that the IGF faces moving ahead.

For starters, especially for those who have not been following the blow-by-blow of WSIS and its progeny, here is my short FAQ based on this briefing we just had.

1) What is the Internet Governance Forum?

– It is something we feel good about.

– It is a process outcome of the WSIS process.

– It is a “new institutional approach.”

– It is uncharted territory, under a UN umbrella; it is relevant for the conversation about UN reform.

– It is a place for informed and meaningful discussion in a multi-stakeholder context and framework – once unacceptable, now the basis for moving ahead.

– It can be analogized, in part, to the OECD, which has been quite successful via the mode of sharing experiences and best practices (but importantly is different from the OECD in other ways, such as the inclusiveness of all states, not just 30).

– It is full of creative ambiguity.

2) What should the IGF do with that “creative ambiguity”? Or, put another way, how does the IGF deal with hard issues?

The IGF has been tasked, for its first meeting in Athens, with taking up four areas of inquiry: openness, security, diversity, and access.

– Openness: includes IPR, which is polarizing and about which the assembled group has agreed to do nothing in the past, though the Forum will have to grapple with it. Net Neutrality is another contender for a specific issue to handle under the “openness” banner. We all know how hard it is just to define “openness,” so the IGF has its hands full here, as important as this theme is. My personal favorite under openness, perhaps not suprisingly, is the cluster of freedom of expression and security and privacy issues that we work on through the OpenNet Initiative.

– Security: Everybody agrees that Internet security is something that needs to be addressed. But privacy, Mr. Kummer notes off the bat, will cause controversy. Kenn Cukier wonders if there’s in fact consensus about what security means? Do developing countries think that security means something different than what the West thinks it means?

– Diversity: Everyone agrees that ICTs for development is an essential component of what the IGF should do. Multilingualism and IDNs will certainly cause division. I think there has to be a major push to get funding for people from developing countries to be able to participate in meetings, as well as a devotion to free, web-based means of active participation.

– Access: This topic includes the age-old issue of interconnection costs and compensation related thereto. In most contexts, liberalization is perceived to be the common answer to the bulk of the problems. But it might also mean development and it might also mean open access, connecting up to the A2K movement and to the IPR themes dealt with (or not dealt with) under the “openness” heading.

3) But how, really, will the IGF manage to deal with sensitive topics?

– The idea is that the IGF will indeed deal with hard issues, not just sweep them under the table.

– But the IGF is not meant to make decisions, so it may be a good venue for bringing them up.

– It will be essential that the IGF figures out how to make participation meaningful, not just creating an environment where everyone can talk but no one listens.

– Connecting to results: even though the IGF does not have a mandate to make policy decisions, much less enforce anything, how, if at all, can the IGF lead to the world becoming a better place?

4) What were the key take-away messages at the briefing?

– From the Executive Secretariat, the clear message from Markus Kummer was that expectation management is essential. If it is interesting, it allows you to contribute, you learn something – even if the world has not changed – then that should be a success.

– Professor Jonathan Zittrain, our beloved colleague, had the most provocative suggestion. Is there an absence of opportunities for diplomats to get together? Is there an absence of opportunities for network architects to get together? (Even if there are enough opportunities for these two groups separately, we need to get these guys all together, plus one sociologist, responded one participant.) The IGF, JZ said, should not just be a meta-meeting. There is a lesson from Wikipedia. In the first instance, the IGF should leap-frog the so-called stakeholders. Go, instead, straight to the users. The right audience is the one-laptop-per-child children who are about to get the equivalent of a blinking cursor. We don’t want them reading stuff and clicking on ads. We want them to see something that they can change, anytime.

– Professor Milton Mueller, a longtime participant and analyst of this space, disagreed, contending that we should not “continue to conflate the free association communities, like Wikipedia, and governance institutions, which get stuck with problems that people come up with.”

5) A few of my own reflections on what the IGF might do, after the meeting.

– We should recognize that there are various modes of grappling with problems, and of governance, related to the Internet (and yes, I do believe in some degree in Internet exceptionalism in certain contexts, that the laws of gravity still apply but that problems have different and distinctive contours than their real-world counterparts do, prompting thought around different types of governance that might be appropriate):

– Sometimes, the sovereign state, or a collected group of states, carry out governance (for good and for ill). This is the zone of governance that Tim Wu and Jack Goldsmith cover in Who Controls the Internet?;

– Sometimes, it’s something that users can do a lot to work out, and should do to work out first, with a back-stop of the states and involvement of companies (ISPs, e.g.) (this was what I had in mind for my own part in a co-authored paper, the Accountable Net);

– But there is also something very intriguing of democratic institutions that seek to bridge the public and the private to work on problems together. Part of the function could be the collection and aggregation of comments, employment of an ombudsman, and provision of a feedback loop.

To me that’s the wonder and the intriguing challenge of a “new institutional approach” here:

– How do you clarify the themes, prioritize the conversations, and join the hard issues (not forgetting history, or the broader construct of these issues, but also aware of where Internet is different)?

– How do you invite, manage, and make participation meaningful, when someone not representing a state seeks to participate? (Capture the energy that went into WSIS, rather than let it dissipate, says Mary Rundle.)

– And how do you link this process, with appropriately managed expectations, to making the world a better place? To figure out the answer to that question strikes me as the way to take the IGF from a garden-variety “success” and to turn it into an outstanding success.

(Want to know more about the issues that the IGF could take up? Check out NetDialogue, and help us to keep the conversation about these issues informed and lively.)

Nick Anstead's reax to Generativity

Oxford Internet Institute SDP 2006 participant Nick Anstead has a reflective post on what he thinks JZ’s Generativity theory might mean. Nick points out some terrific problems it raises, then concludes (and I agree), “Generativity is a compelling and very attractive theory. As well as giving a compelling answer, I think it’s greatest strength is that it offers a powerful framework for asking many further questions about what exactly we desire in Internet and ICT development.”