BRIGHT IDEAS: Laura DeNardis on Protocol Politics
Laura DeNardis has written a superb new book, Protocol Politics (MIT Press, 2009). Laura, the Executive Director of the Yale Information Society Project, is a scholar of Internet governance issues who teaches Access to Knowledge at Yale Law School. Protocol Politics tackles the political, economic, and technological ramifications of our vanishing supply of Internet protocol addresses and the selection and adoption of a new Internet protocol. The book helps us see why this issue has a profound impact on Internet civil liberties, US military objectives, globalization, institutional power struggles, and democratic freedoms. It offers recommendations for Internet standards governance, based not only on technical concerns, but also on principles of openness and transparency, and examines the global implications of looming Internet address scarcity versus the slow deployment of the new protocol designed to solve this problem. I asked Laura about her book; her answers are below:
DeNardis: Internet technical protocols, the ‘agreed upon’ blueprints that enable interoperability among technologies, are largely invisible to Internet users but structure how we access information, influence which corporations will gain market dominance, and make direct decisions about our Internet freedoms. I wrote this book for four reasons. First, I wanted to bring this largely hidden world of Internet standards setting and protocol design to a wider audience and explain why citizens should be engaged in protocol debates. Second, I used the new Internet Protocol – IPv6 – as the primary case study because it is at the center of a very real global dilemma. The reserve of Internet addresses necessary for every connection to the Internet is nearly depleted and the migration to the new protocol designed to solve this problem has barely begun. The progression of Internet address depletion, as well as more than a decade of unrealized promises about the new protocol, is one of the most fascinating stories in the history of the Internet. Third, I wanted to present a framework for Internet governance that moves beyond the usual ICANN issues to include a different set of questions about standardization, communication rights, critical Internet resources, and intellectual property. Finally, I wanted to present a framework for openness and transparency in technical standardization that has the technical rationale of maximizing interoperability, the economic rationale of encouraging competition, and the political goal of maximizing the legitimacy of private standards-setting organizations to make decisions that establish public policy in areas such as individual civil liberties, democratic participation, and user choice.HOW DOES THIS BOOK FIT IN YOUR LARGER PROJECT ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND DEMOCRACY?
DeNardis: My overall research project, influenced by the field of science and technology studies (STS), examines how the Internet’s underlying technical architecture directly embodies social values and political interests and and how technical design choices in turn shape law and society. Technical design decisions can either promote values of democracy, innovation, and individual rights or they can resist these values. My current book project – Technologies of Dissent – builds upon this work to examine the intersection of Internet technical architecture and political protest. I’m currently writing about issues related to dissent and Internet technologies, such as the Google maps mashup controversy over California’s Proposition 8, the role of social media in the Iranian election protests, and the use of twitter during the recent G20 protests.