[discuss] Contributions to NETmundial

Milton L Mueller mueller at syr.edu
Tue Mar 11 17:31:53 UTC 2014

Eliot (love your domain name, btw):

From: Eliot Lear [mailto:lear at ofcourseimright.com]

>Since you asked the question, tho, turnabout is fair play ;-)  I'd be curious of your thoughts about this.

What you described in your response were forms of governmental _participation_ in IETF standardization activities. I think that’s fine, as long as governments participate on the basis of individuals with expertise and an ability to contribute something of value to the development of protocols and standards. I am completely opposed to any situation in which governments participate as “overseers” of standardization processes, or any process to require technological designs to “conform to policy.”

Behind my view is a more academically derived argument about the ‘code is law’ line. In certain naïve manifestations, the belief that code is law or that protocols have politics can lead to a misplaced belief that if we design standards and architecture right then we will have no social problems. We can have, for example, “privacy by design,” or “freedom in a box” regardless of powerful political and economic forces pushing in the opposite direction.  The reality is that standards and technology can be, and often are, overcome or distorted by politics and economics, and – most importantly – that you can rarely predict the actual social impact of a technology when it is just in the early design stages. In practical effect, political oversight of design will be inherently conservative; had there been “oversight” of the development of the Internet standards, for example, the telephone companies and governments would have designed them to protect vested interests in the control of communications. Disruptive technologies occur precisely because no one understands their ultimate societal impact and/or no one in established authority has any say about it.

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