Niels ten Oever: a Net of Rights? – the Inscription and Subversion of Values in Transnational Internet Infrastructure Governance
March 20 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
In this talk I will show how fundamental characteristics of the Internet architecture, such as equality and innovation, have been subverted since the 1990s. While Internet platforms and applications are critically assessed in the public debate, the Internet architecture is widely perceived as engine for innovation and as enabler of rights and freedoms. This view reflects an imaginary that guides the co-production of policy and technology that can be traced back to the early phases of the development of the Internet, and which is still prominent in one the main governance bodies of the Internet: the Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF). In the IETF, the co-production of the Internet architecture is guided by the architectural principles of permissionless innovation, openness, and the end-to-end principle. After the privatization of the Internet architecture, the interplay between permissionless innovation, openness, and the end-to-end principle reconfigured and subverted the Internet architecture’s affordance structure. To show this I draw on media studies, science and technology studies and international political economy, and by using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods based on document analysis, interviews, and participant observation. Through this data I show how the Internet architecture fundamentally changed from the early 1990s up to now, how the Internet protocol community has refused to take impacts on rights and freedoms structurally into account, and how this negatively affected the equality of users and undermined their ability to redesign the Internet in their favor.