Vint Cerf, who is widely known as one of the “fathers” of the Internet, recently met with Informilo in Geneva at the Internet Society’s new offices, to discuss the future of the Internet and Internet regulation. In the interview Cerf, who is Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, addresses the tension between privacy and the desire of governments to protect society.
Cerf, who spoke at the Lift conference while in Geneva, says he sees a need for a global consensus on issues such as privacy, digital signatures and taxation. To reach agreement, governments must be open to allowing others to have a say in policymaking, he says, arguing that neither the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN) , a private, nonprofit company that oversees technical aspects of the Internet’s address system, or institutions such as the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union, are the right place to create new regulatory policies. What is needed, he argues, is a new “ICANN-like” organization.
Cerf also talks about the U.S. government’s legal oversight of ICANN, a controversial role that could come to an end in June, when a current agreement expires. Some countries, especially those in the developing world, are vexed by continued U.S. power over key Internet resources. As important as it is to give more people and more countries a voice in the running of the Internet, Cerf argues that the U.S. government has done no harm and has in fact played a beneficial role by preventing countries that may have wanted to hamper the Internet from interferring with ICANN. As things stand now, Cerf argues, “If you pick a fight with ICANN you are implicitly picking a fight with the U.S. government.” And, that, he says, is a valuable deterrent. The question now, he says, is how to maintain U.S. government involvement while giving others a voice in the way the Net is run.
Cerf has been involved with the Internet since 1973. During his tenure from 1976-1982 with the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Cerf played a key role leading the development of Internet and Internet-related packet data and security technologies. He has also served as founding president of the Internet Society and is a past chairman of the board of ICANN. In December 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the U.S. National Medal of Technology to Cerf and his colleague, Robert E. Kahn, for founding and developing the Internet. Kahn and Cerf were also named the recipients of the ACM Alan M. Turing award, sometimes called the “Nobel Prize of Computer Science,” in 2004 for their work on the Internet protocols. In November 2005, President George Bush awarded Cerf and Kahn the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their work.