Vint Cerf's Think Tank: Internet Rulemaking Is Going to Get More Complicated

Computer scientist Vint Cerf

Computer scientist Vint Cerf Andre Penner/AP

The nonprofit recommends governments work with each other—and the rest of society—to craft internet regulations.

A nonprofit founded by Google’s chief internet evangelist has an urgent message for governments globally: governments and society need to collaborate on tech policy.

In a new report from the Internet Society, a think tank founded by Vint Cerf, authors recommend governments take a “multistakeholder” approach—inviting members of the public and representatives from various industries—to create “consensus policy” surrounding the internet. They could determine what should be censored, how encryption affects national security, and whether citizens maintain their personal freedoms online.

That approach is distinct from the “multilateral” approach in which several governments work together, excluding representatives from civil society.

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As cybersecurity incidents, and potentially ones that affect many countries at once, are likely to become more common, governments are increasingly pressured to quell those threats and other violent behavior online.

“Measures that may be intended to secure cyberspace will increasingly undermine personal rights and freedoms,” the report predicted. “If current trends are any indication, more and more governments will restrict and control Internet use and access through censorship, network shutdowns and other means.”

There will still be tension between the citizens’ need to communicate securely and privately, and the government’s attempts to access that communication to identify national security threats. Banning encryption would “put at risk … freedom of expression, privacy, and user trust” and “weakening encryption technologies will create new vulnerabilities and cyber threats.”

Those are complex issues, which should drive governments to seek input from stakeholders outside government, the report said. Still, “despite broad recognition of the need for multistakeholder approaches to internet policy, the awkward dance between multistakeholder and multilateral approaches to internet policy at the international level will continue,” authors predicted.

They also recommended that governments, nonprofits and the private sector should train people whose jobs are likely to be made obsolete.

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