The Internet Society and Public Policy
The Internet Society identifies the policy issues it believes
are most critical
By David Maher
When Don Heath, president and CEO of the Internet Society, made
the decision to create the office of Vice President for Public
Policy, he proposed the following, both as a job description and
as a program for the society:
"Background: There are an increasing number of sources where issues
are being discussed, and decisions are being made, that can and
do affect the evolution of the Internet. These may stem from social,
ethical, economic, political, or legal considerations, and from
organizations associated within the private and/or public sectors,
including industry, government, academic, or other institutions.
Therefore we would like to appoint an individual, or a committee
chaired by an individual, whose responsibilities would include
maintaining close relationships with the entities that may affect
public policy, or that affect potential policy issues. The purpose
is twofold: (1) to be aware of these various activities along
with the content and substance of the issues being discussed,
in order that the Internet Society may be current, and (2) that
the Internet Society may make its position known and influence
the potential outcomes consistent with the principles, goals,
and objectives of the Internet Society.
The primary role is to lead efforts of the Society in developing
and formulating its positions on issues confronting the evolution
of the Internet, and to make these positions clear in the various
forums where they may be discussed or applied."
The Internet Society is now an active member of the Noncommercial
Domain Name Holders Constituency as a part of ICANN's Domain Name
Support Group and will participate in deliberations regarding
the domain name system and other aspects of Internet governance.
At a recent ISOC board meeting, the following public policy issues
were identified as most critical at this time. In each case, the
development and formation of a position by the society will require
analysis and debate, taking into account different regional and
national views that often vary widely.
Censorship and Freedom of Expression
While the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is well recognized
as a preeminent guiding principle of freedom of expression, it
is not universally accepted. Even within the United States, there
are differences of opinion as to how it should be applied. In
other countries, there are historical and social issues regarding
censorship and expression that must be considered.
In regard to issues of censorship and free expression, the responsibilities
of service providers vary significantly from country to country.
Protection of Privacy
Data collected by service providers and Web site operators about
Internet users has become a major issue both nationally and internationally.
For example, European Union directives on privacy have conflicted
with U.S. encouragement of a nongovernmental, private-sector approach.
The control of unsolicited mail (spam) has provoked a variety
of different legislative initiatives in different countries.
There has been controversy within the IETF over possible enablement
of data interception in the new protocols of IP ver 6.
With respect to the identification of domain name holders and
access to domain name databases, there is significant conflict
between the interests of trademark owners in accessing the information
and the privacy interests of individual domain name registrants.
There are both international and U.S. concerns over burdensome
taxation that could stifle development of the Internet as a worldwide
marketplace. In the United States, there is controversy between
state and federal governments arising from state concern that
the traditional state revenue base of sales taxes may be destroyed
by nontaxable e-commerce transactions.
The Internet Society has strongly supported ICANN as the best
hope of a nongovernmental approach to Internet governance. The
future of ICANN depends on its ability to develop international
support for its programs and to build a stable financial base.
The sometimes conflicting interests of governments, of the operators
of the country code top-level domains, and of various nongovernmental
parties cannot be resolved without serious attention to a variety
of public policy issues. These include questions about the primacy
of public interest versus commercial interests, the continuing
role of the Internet Society, and the continuing conflict between
the needs of trademark owners and the interests of Internet users
in expanding the domain name space.
Closely related to questions about Internet governance are questions
about protection of trademarks. For the past five or six years,
trademark issues have dominated the domain name debate. ICANN's
adoption of a Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy has created an
international code of trademark protection that is unprecedented
in international law. While widely supported, the UDRP has also
raised concerns among users of generic terms and other words or
phrases that have meaning both as trademarks and in noncommercial
In addition to the trademark issues, there are conflicting views
on copyright issues, such as the appropriate protection of databases.
For example, the European Union and the United States are pursuing
different legislative approaches to database protection. Those
different approaches could have serious impact on the commercial
value of these database properties.
Each of the foregoing public policy issues poses a substantial
challenge to the Internet Society. I hope that as time goes on,
a wide range of voices and opinions will arise to develop policies
that best serve the goals of the society and the Internet. Volunteers
to help develop and articulate those policies are always welcome.