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August 28, 2012

Evolution

Internet another tool/weapon in evolution.
In the opening scenes of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a band of ape-like creatures some 4 million years ago discovers a monolith. I’ll get to that later, but for the sake of brevity, the creature, who had been a vegetarian, finds a bone, uses the bone to hunt meat and eventually uses the same bone to kill a rival.
I don’t want this column to become as confusing as the movie, but there is an interesting correlation between the movie and the Internet.

Throughout the evolution of humankind, the tool-to-weapon link has been made. From that bone to gunpowder to flying machines to computers. What began as a tool soon serves a dual purpose, as tool and weapon.
The monolith in the movie was supposedly planted there – as well as one on the moon – by space travelers. The monolith was meant to help in the evolution of humankind, hence the idea for the bone for a tool and eventual weapon.
Now this is my understanding and interpretation of the 1968 movie and there are many others. It took me a while to come to my conclusions. I didn’t get much out of it when I first saw it, but, hey, it was the ’60s.

The Internet is a great tool. Who doesn’t use Google almost every day? We communicate with distant relatives or even someone across the room, through email. We shop. We trace our roots. Revolutions are started and reported on the Internet. It was an enormously important breakthrough for civilization.
But, as with almost all tools, it has been used as a weapon. Anyone can post anything on the Internet. It can be used to wound or end the careers of politicians and movie stars. It can be used by hackers to penetrate the lives of average people and steal their life savings or their identities. It can be used to break into companies and do harm.

Of course, there are the sexual predators and child molesters who can use the Internet to find their next victims.
And, I believe, it could eventually mean the demise of face-to-face communication. Logged onto Facebook recently? Texting, by the way, is just as socially destructive. But someone likely once said that about the telephone.

Policing the Internet is challenging, especially in this country with its strong First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Unfortunately, not everyone took to heart the lessons of their childhood of being kind.
The attacks are made even easier through the anonymity of the Internet. In chat rooms and in comment sections, the harsher, even meaner, side of contributors comes out.

Not to sound self-serving, but the Internet has few, if any, restrictions. In the newspaper business, there are editors to filter out the chaff and ensure accuracy. The names and phone numbers and, yes, email addresses of writers are, at least in the Tulsa World, published along with their stories and columns. Someone is held accountable.
The Internet, however, too often becomes a verbal gun to attack the innocent as well as the guilty, to incite, to inflict harm.

The movie, “2001” was a lesson in evolution. When the tool – the onboard computer Hal 9000 – became more human than machine, it viewed the human occupants of the spaceship as mere maintenance workers – apes – and found them dispensable. Hal was the brain and nervous center of the ship. When it felt threatened, it fought back, becoming the weapon. In the end, it was undone by a tool, a screwdriver, that was used as a weapon.
There’s more to the movie – the fourth dimension, the starchild – but I’ll stop there. It’s not the ’60s anymore, man.

I’m not predicting that the Internet will become as insidious as Hal 9000. I’m not suggesting that the Internet be “unplugged.” It is, simply, as in “2001” another step in the evolution of humankind, good or bad. And, like a gun or stick of dynamite, it should be handled with care.
The Internet is not the end of evolution. It is merely another marker along the road. There will be other tools and other weapons.
We could try to disconnect the Internet. But, as Hal might say, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” And, as Hal believed then, he might or might not be doing us a favor.

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August 3, 2012

Internet rules

On Internet rules, India now more willing to say ICANN.

India has reinvented its position on Internet governance, hoping to become a new voice of reason in what has so far been a deeply polarised global debate.

The change, effected after detailed inter-ministerial as well as multi-stakeholder consultation, is intended to distance India from any model propagating governments taking “charge” or “balkanising” the Internet. It was unveiled at the recent Budapest Cyber Space Conference.

According to Minister of State for Telecom Sachin Pilot, who led the Indian delegation to Budapest, instead of opposing the U.S.-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and its operations through an earlier proposal called the U.N. Committee on Internet-Related Policies (UN-CIRP), India will pursue enhanced cooperation through wider dialogue.

“In our meetings with Fadi Chehade, the new CEO of ICANN, I have sought far stronger representation of the developing world on the four ICANN Advisory committees”, Mr. Pilot told The Hindu.

ICANN’s committees include the “At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), Root Server System Advisory Committee (RSSAC) and the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC).

Countries such as Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have been advocating governance models that seek to place the Internet under U.N. control while the U.S. and western states have been reluctant to move away from the status quo position of ICANN-led Internet governance. India had positioned its UN-CIRP proposal as something that would lie in between these two extremes. But while the international debate continues, it is keen to step up its engagement with ICANN which remains, for the moment, the only game in town.

“The extreme views being floated by some countries on Internet governance could lead to the balkanisation of Internet and we are against any such move, including control of Internet by government or inter-governmental bodies. We seek enhanced dialogue and continuation of a working group to find ways to resolve the sharp differences that currently exist,” Mr. Pilot said.

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August 2, 2012

Position

Mr. Pilot’s position is consistent with that of Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, who maintained at two recent meetings on Internet governance in India in September 2012, that India was firmly against government control of the Internet while seeking consensus among multi-stakeholders to develop an appropriate model for the effective management of the Internet.

India had attracted criticism from the U.S. and from corporate stakeholders who want no dilution of the current ICANN-run system after it presented its UN-CIRP model for Internet governance last October at the 66th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.

While the UN-CIRP essentially sought a shift from the existing ICANN-run model that is perceived to be too close to the U.S. government, many domestic stakeholders were critical of the lack of consultation in the run-up to the October 2011 statement. Signs of a rethink in the government were evident when senior officials in the ministries concerned refused to entertain questions on the genesis of the UN-CIRP proposal put to them by The Hindu over the past few months.

In the run-up to the Budapest meet, a UPA task-force held closed-door consultations involving the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Telecom and IT, industry bodies and others. Latha Reddy, the Deputy National Security Adviser, coordinated this effort.

On the issue of India’s earlier UN-CIRP model, Mr. Pilot also confirmed, “We are moving ahead with new proposals. While the existing system certainly needs to be changed, India’s position will include multi-stakeholder involvement and not inter-governmental bodies that may have been proposed in the past.”

The Indian government’s changed stance on Internet governance, though subtle, is expected to generate further attention at the upcoming Internet Governance Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan next month, where thousands of delegates representing governments, business, civil society, academia and media from across the world will collect to discuss the issue.

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