home Cyber Security, Mobile Tech, Technology The Asymmetrics, the WEF, ICANN, Brazil, and the ‘Little Red Book’ of Multistakeholderism

The Asymmetrics, the WEF, ICANN, Brazil, and the ‘Little Red Book’ of Multistakeholderism

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Few weeks ago, candid minds did wonder whether Brazil would challenge the asymmetric US governance over Internet, or be fooled by the ‘Asymmetrics‘, or even accept to be fooled for other ‘good’ reasons, since president Dilma Rousseff called for a rebalancing of Internet power structure and a full stop to US global surveillance and spying during her speech at the United Nations General Assembly back in September 2013 in NY — remember the NSA effect? Less candid minds are now able to see that Brazil has lost an historical opportunity to be more than just a promising member of the BRICS club.
 
There is a lot of evidence to support the idea that Brazil has recently changed its request for a major change in Internet power structure and governance. One of them is the upcoming Brazilian Internet conference, now organized in association with ICANN. Let’s first give the floor to Fadi Chehadé. On January 7, 2014, during a MIT cyber conference, the head of ICANN declared in front of many Asymmetrics present in the room, most of them from the US and many doubtful of Chehadé’s idea of globalizing ICANN: “We knew she (Rousseff) could be a good leader for the middle countries, the ones who didn’t know what to do about the ITRs updates during the last WCIT, an international telecommunication conference held in Dubai in December 2012 by the ITU — 83 countries signed the updated treaty. We also knew, and this is very important, that Brazil was the only big country in the world over the last 18 years that actually manages its national Internet policy based on a multistakeholder body where the government does not have the majority. This body is called CGI — it is very important. So we went to her and said to her: “What you have done in Brazil could be a model that we use to the world.” A very flattering and smart move, indeed.
 
As participants to the MIT Cyber security conference were able to hear directly from Chehadé, his move to visiting Rousseff in Brazil in October 2013 was given a ‘go’ by the State department. In any case Chehadé didn’t need to publicly confirm this ‘go’, as the matter was obviously of such diplomatic critical importance after Rousseff’s UN speech. Chehadé continued: “And she agreed. And so she moved away from her position at the UN in September and said “I am willing to explore with you that middle ground you propose.” So we are now bringing middle countries in the process of the Brazilian meeting. I see Turkey in there, South Korea, Germany, Ghana, and other countries… We are aiming not at a system that will replace the current one, but a thoughtful and meaningful evolution.”
 
Another interesting development about the Brazilian u-turn is that the conference is no longer organized solely by Brazil but by Brazil and ICANN. For the record, and with all due respect, CGI is certainly not the policymaker conducting Brazilian public view and governance over digital affairs. Chehadé is having a bit of a dream here, even though CGI has a real contribution to it, and has been selected by Brazil and ICANN to be the organizer on the ground to prepare the Sao Paolo April conference. Finally, it is also interesting to see that ICANN and other members of a grouping called the I* (pronounce i-stars) have set an empty ad-hoc black box to filter and select the MS representatives that will be allowed to participate to the Brazilian multistakeholder conference. This empty box has a name: 1net. Any observer could really wonder how Brazil could rely on a non existing body such as this new 1net initiative with no constituencies, no bylaws, no rules. How can this ‘thing’ suddenly become a legitimate body to establish who is good to participate to the Brazil/ICANN conference in April 2014? The Internet Governance Forum and its diversity of participants could have been a better option, but sadly the Asymmetrics have turned this venue into a dead-end. For the clarity of the debate, the 1net is an initiative set by the I*, and more specifically by ICANN — who is claiming no authority over it, except for all the money it is pouring in.
 
Considering that good job, Chehadé deserves to be given some credit as Brazil is now more or less handcuffed by the Asymmetrics. Whatever should come out of the Brazilian conference will be of no legitimacy and very poor impact, even with a dozen of ‘middle countries’ a little bit more lost into that bizarre process. Moreover it will not restore what the Asymmetrics tend to ignore most in any honest debate: trust between participants. Manipulation tends to produce the opposite.
 
And the story does not stop with this brilliant ‘twist’. The Asymmetrics are defending their dominant role with great commitment, absolutely confident in their views, rights and model: the multistakeholder (MS) one. The only problem is that this MS model is a very fluffy one, only supported by a high-level narrative and argumentative rhetoric with enough money so to be constantly repeated and inflated. The MS model keeps at bay any alternative Internet Governance that could build more trust, justice and equity around the globe. This is something the MS model doesn’t do. Today’s Internet governance benefits firstly to the surveillance cyber capacities of the US and some of its allies, such as the UK and Sweden for example -they are hosting part of the Internet roots; and to the profits of the big digital corporations, in particular the ones accessing our metadata. This is done with no respect to anyone privacy and free will, and little concern for true competition and taxpayer’s money whatever his or her citizenship can be. Therefore it is assuredly the right time to open and critically understand that MS narrative and rhetoric.
 
While the Maoist Little Red Book was compiled by an office of the PLA Daily (People’s Liberation Army Daily) as an inspirational political and military document, today’s Internet Governance Little Red iBook should be assembled not by Maoists, but by Asymmetrics. They act under self-regulation and render justice as some sort of digital posse comitatus would do. Their holly mission is to defend and protect the current status-quo, or any thoughtful evolution so as to preserve the US oversight under a MS Internet governance and its current imbalance. Remember that the US — the leading party in this MS model — declare themselves the champions of Freedom of Expression i.e. “the more we talk, the more the NSA listen!” The Asymmetrics have a major strength apart from their funding power. They have built a robust narrative capacity and talent. Since the end of the ’90s — when ICANN was incorporated and a new state of Internet Governance was set under the supervision of the USG. In 2013, following Snowden wake-up call, unprecedented pressure has rapidly grown out of an international audience (citizens, governments, and civil society) and the US narrative has found its limits which, therefore, needs to refurbish it tralala.
 
Before helping the Asymmetrics to fill their Little Red iBook, maybe I should clarify what is an Asymmetric, apart from supporting the asymmetric role of the US and the current status-quo.
 
Let’s start with a few examples of what an Asymmetric will never do because it would contradict this dominance:

    • To launch a campaign to ask for Edward Snowden’s immunity as a global diplomat, including the right to return to his country.

 

    • To encourage people to subscribe to the Guardian, the leading independent media fighting against the US abuse of power over international telecommunication, information and data surveillance.

 

    • To say anything positive about the UN, multilateralism, international law and governments (except for the US).

 

  • To denounce the sudden ending of a 2-year Federal Trade Commission investigation against Google, in January 2013, described as a major victory by the New York Times. “By allowing Google to continue to present search results that highlight its own services, the F.T.C. decision is enabling Google to further strengthen its already dominant position on the Internet.” This surprising decision came few days after WCIT 12, and after Google’s hysterical campaign against any possible update referring to Internet within the International Treaty under revision at the times. Was this a reward for good conduct during the last battle over Internet Governance in Dubai? Indeed, Google’s anti-ITU and anti-multilateral campaign was of great support to the US delegation at WCIT 12, Google being also participant to this delegation of 120 people. As a solid defender of the US status-quo, Google can only support and be supported by the Asymmetrics.

The keystone of asymmetric standard thinking and narrative is rather simple. Such a quality makes sense when one wants to gain support from the multitude:

    • The Internet is a decentralized world. How can one govern a decentralized world? If Internet is relying on networks infrastructures based all over the planet, it doesn’t mean it has no core and critical points of power. The same reasoning would certainly conclude that 51 decentralized States cannot be governed by a single umbrella such as a federal government.

 

    • The Internet is an innovative and disruptive world. Amusingly, any innovation to its governance is not welcomed. The current US Internet governance should not be disrupted because “It works.” The “If it works — for US –, don’t fix it” theory!

 

    • The Internet is better managed and coordinated by no one government, no one entity, no one individual except by the US (government and corps). Some Asymmetrics recognize the US asymmetric role, but it is, in their view, the least terrible governmental influence they can think of. Moreover, they can deal with it thanks to lobbying, corruption, and nepotism.

 

    • Regulation is killing innovation. A very old rhetoric indeed is saying that ‘regulations’ are bad, so governments should stay away. Such assumption has been challenged and the opposite view has been supported by many academics.

 

    • Voice of a corporation equals voice of a state. That is the MS meaning for “equal footing,” the true conceptual pearl of MS narrative, even though it has no substance. Indeed for Asymmetrics, the MS model of governance convenes all stakeholders — apart from the end-user. They assume that an Internet user is a consumer who has not much more to do than to pay for accessing the Internet (see Vint Cerf, a senior employee at Google, for more on this, and on his position about privacy “Anyway, it doesn’t exist anymore“). Therefore why bother about the NSA looking into our information, calls and data? On this, please keep in mind that the UE has a legal position that states and defends the ownership of any European over his/her data and metadata.

 

  • Using the verb to govern is not correct. To coordinate is fine. Think of soft power.

So now I presume you are ready for some asymmetric quotations –please note that if you are a true Democrat, some of these might hurt your convictions.
 
“We should not accept the term governance gap. That’s an invention that has been a very popular invention but we should not use it in our vocabulary.” For Asymmetrics, this governance gap is used by progressists who are concerned with the digital gap between developed and developing or less developed countries. It is also a reference to the fact that part of the current governance by the Asymmetrics is done without mentioning it.
 
“We should have no single definition of Internet governance. We should push against the idea that the Brazil meeting, or anything else, will produce a definition of Internet Governance.” In any consensus building or reforming or transitioning, a set of common definitions is among the primary attempts to find a common ground for honest negotiations. As Asymmetrics think that the MS model is the best model, there is no need for common definitions. Confusion is a better option, or call it chaos if you prefer.
 
“We should not use in our vocabulary orphan issues.” To admit orphan issues would implicitly means that the current status quo needs some additional power rethinking. For Asymmetrics, this is not necessary. So the message here is that everything is already being taken care of.
 
“We should not have a single list of issues for governance. There are people who got it one way, people who got it another way. Let that happen. Let these thousand flowers of definition blossom.” (My favorite!). Again, chaos is a better option. By avoiding single definition, the status quo is presumably more stable. Amusingly, the same Asymmetrics love the idea of a unified Internet, a ONE Internet (see I*, 1net…).
 
“We should avoid to establish a single set of principles which is, among other things, one declared objective of the Brazilian meeting.” That is quite interesting as principles are described as an enemy to the MS model. I leave it to your reflection.
 
All of these quotations are from a single Asymmetric : Alejandro Pisanty during the last ICANN 48 in Buenos Aires. With such good advice in mind, one can easily understand that trust is not part of the game in IG matters and debates. Amusingly, no one in the room opposed such a totalitarian language. Pisanty is not only Chair of ISOC Mexico, but also gained influence over the small MS priesthood in the IT technical community. He served three terms as an ICANN board member, and is currently on ISOC’s Board of Trustees. There are a few other fanatics of this kind so the Little Red iBook of the MS Internet Governance model has plenty to quote from.
 
Contrary to what they are supposed to fight for, Asymmetrics are used to play with what they are so prompt to reproach to others. Take for example the behind-close-doors argument, often exposed to denounce governmental or multilateral meetings. During the same ICANN event, Lynn Saint Amour, ISOC CEO by then, declared: “We started the I* meetings 3 years ago (2010) twice a year each for two days of peace, building relationships, sharing strategic visions and directions, and looking for points of alignment. The I* consist of 11 CEOs that have responsibility for managing the key pieces of the Internet infrastructures.” The 11 CEOs are those from ICANN, ISOC, IANA, IEB, W3C, IETF and the 5 RIR. “The meetings were not secret at all, but neither do we actually publicize them. We didn’t publicize them because we didn’t want them to become a standing venue, or a standing event. We came together to coordinate but not as a standing venue.” For many participating to the IG debate who are not part of the Asymmetrics, the announcement of the existing I* meetings was a bit of a surprise. So, next time you do a meeting behind close doors, you have now the perfect argument to defend its secrecy setting.
 
Another source of possible quotation for the Little Red iBook is certainly Rod Beckstrom, another US compatriot to Saint Amour, and himself a former ICANN CEO — he was succeeded by Chehadé. Here is what Beckstrom had to say few weeks ago during a preparatory meeting of today’s Davos summit where ICANN has presented a survey it commissioned to the Boston Consulting Group to figure out the cost of a fragmented Internet — a new element of the Asymmetric narrative is being tailored to frighten the business lords.
 
Beckstrom was happy to speak along panelists such as Pr. Joseph Nye and other WEF guests: “The Internet is coordinated by 4 primary Internet coordination bodies (ICANN, ISOC, IETF, W3C), leaders of those groups are in the room today… Clearly the feedback from the discussions here is that a lot of people around the world are not happy with the unilateral aspect with ICANN which is by the way simply one contract called IANA, and that agreement helped to create a global multistakeholder body and was always meant to expire, but it hasn’t yet. And I know it well, because I am the signatory of the agreement and negotiated the last version with the US government last year and certainly felt at the time we wanted to go much further in internationalizing that agreement. That simply means not that the multistakeholder model be thrown away, rather it needs to be further strengthened by becoming international and so the Forum (WEF) has an important part in that discussion. The WEF is a critical place to talk about the future of the Internet Governance, the WEF which is the cutting edge of governance in the world.” Good to realize this, isn’t it? And Beckstrom has a big concern. “Trust in Internet has been shattered because of the news on surveillance that is coming out of multiples countries.” Amusingly Beckstrom put the fault onto the news about surveillance out of multiples countries but not onto the surveillance out of the US.
 
Rod Beckstrom considers himself a thinker of the MS IG model. He eventually gave to his views a theoretical design in a book The Starfish And The Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations he co-signed with Ori Brafman. The latter also wrote The Chaos Imperative and proudly claims to have introduce the US army (through General Martin Dempsey the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and highest ranked military in the US) to his concept of disruption. Beckstrom himself explained how by using “his” book the US government could take a different approach in theirs dealings with Al Qaeda. Such ultra-liberal libertarian thinking had put Beckstrom in the eyes of the previous Bush administration, and his Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano. In March 7, 2008, Beckstrom was appointed director of the National Cyber-Security Initiative, a key component of a secretive government effort to secure vulnerable government and private computer networks. President Bush created this new entity by a classified presidential order in January 2008. It seems like Beckstrom ability to take a position with a ‘leaderless attitude’ proved to be poorly efficient as he had to quit his “security czar” position amid power struggle with then Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff after a battle for control and power ensued. Beckstrom also blamed the NSA for a lack of cooperation, and insufficient funding. Beckstrom and his team also formed the NCSC Coordination Council, supported the Department of Defense in forming its Web 2.0 cyber platform, and created the National Cyber Center to bring together local and state governments. Ultimately, the US government got him a job at ICANN as its new CEO, until Fadi Chehadé took the position. Now an employee at Samsung, Beckstrom is keen to explain the advantages of the MS IG model.
 
Chehadé is a much more appropriate CEO to conduct the internationalization or globalization of ICANN — under USG coordination and overview. He has no Bush administration cyber warfare and surveillance records. He thinks business and value. And Chehadé deserves certainly to have a few chapters in the Little Red iBook for his remarkable well-packaged thoughts.
 
During the same MIT meeting he had to switch hats to answer quite an odd question: “Do you believe the outcome of a more balanced system will result in a more rebalanced Internet Power Structure in terms of the companies that participate?” His answer went like this:

I would wear for a moment my hat as an entrepreneur and as someone who made great strides in the world of business in building value and jobs on the Internet. I think the real danger we have is in fact in letting the world down on this issue of making ICANN truly a global organization. Because, if we let the world down, there is a danger that the Internet will become fragmented. At the policy level, at the economic level, and potentially at the physical level. And if that happens, there will be so much friction between countries and entities to do commerce and to exchange information that the cost of doing business on Internet, the cost of propagating services on the Net will go up significantly. So it is actually in our advantage right now to find a governance model that is acceptable to the world to keep the Internet as one. If it breaks down, the friction cost is going to be high.

Many will wonder about who is the “we,” but no one will doubt the fact that Asymmetrics will do their utmost to protect their ability to wedge cyber war, cyber surveillance and the profits that are of unseen magnitude today in the hands of the iTyrants. Google has probably lost track of its own model and doesn’t know what to do with its billions. Mark Zuckerberg is having some problems with his neighbors as he can’t find them on Facebook — did he notice that he bought the houses surrounding his compound for more privacy. And many others Asymmetrics do have problems to face the insanity of today’s Internet power and policymaking system, when denying the already fragmented state of the Internet around the world. To citizens of the planet, the cost of the current state of a unified but asymmetric Internet is as large as the profits we see in this other corner of the planet.

James Barnley

I’m the editor of the DomainingAfrica. I write about internet and social media, focusing mainly on Domains. As a subscriber to my newsletter, you’ll get a lot of information on Domain Issues, ICANN, new gtld’s, Mobile technology and social media.

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