Re: [perpass] politics and the ietf

Robin Wilton <> Thu, 05 December 2013 09:51 UTC

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From: Robin Wilton <>
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2013 09:55:16 +0000
To: Elijah Sparrow <>
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Subject: Re: [perpass] politics and the ietf
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Thanks Elijah, this is a very useful perspective on the whole question of technologists' role - especially when the technology in question is so woven into our political, economic and personal lives.

As you say, much of the work of the IETF has an inescapably political dimension - whether we choose to acknowledge that ourselves, or have it thrust upon us (Dual_EC_DRBG being a case in point). 

I apologise for re-using a well-worn phrase, but I think this reinforces the argument in favour of an open, multi-stakeholder process. That doesn't mean forcing economists and policymakers into the drafting sessions for RFCs, but it does mean creating a process that can take their (and others') input into account - and being able to articulate what we do in terms that make sense to other stakeholders.

That approach isn't a guarantee against 'bad actors' exploiting the open nature of the process for their own ends, but compared to alternative ways of architecting and governing the Internet, it offers the best prospects of detecting and mitigating that kind of harm.

Best wishes,


Robin Wilton

Technical Outreach Director - Identity and Privacy

On 5 Dec 2013, at 07:25, Elijah Sparrow <> wrote:

> As an outsider to the IETF, and one-time sociologist, I found the repeated calls in Vancouver 88 and on this list for decisions to be made based solely on technical merit and not political argument to be extremely fascinating.
> There was once a time when the design of a protocol or standard could be done in a manner that benefited nearly everyone who might be touched by it. These days are surely past. Nearly every single debate or question that has come up on this list is deeply political, if for no other reason than whatever decisions are made will create winners and losers, people who benefit from the choice and people who are harmed by the choice.
> In the sweep of history, information capitalism has come to a moment of truth, where the material infrastructure that the IETF and technologists the world around have helped to create has now matured into both an economic engine and a state intelligence system based on mass surveillance. Perhaps the most distinguishing political debate of our time is how the power of the state and of business with respect to citizens and customers has been radically transformed under this new regime of ubiquitous surveillance. Obviously, I feel a particular way about this, but I am just stating the obvious: these issues are deeply political because the fragile balance of powers in liberal democracy and in our capitalist economies have been inexorably rocked by technological changes.
> In this context, the question of "how much encryption" is a technical question that is also deeply intertwined with the major political debates of our day. One only has to note the major headlines around the world about the ietf calls for encryption in http 2.0. How often have ietf meetings garnered such global coverage?
> Scientists and engineers are often forced into political arenas without their desire or foresight. Take, for example, the history of genomics, climate change, or nuclear physics. Historically, the scientists and engineers have clung desperately to the cloak of objective science, even as their work took on increasingly obvious political ramifications. My hope for the internet is that we could perhaps bypass such silliness and embrace the obvious political nature of our work. Being honest with ourselves does not push anyone toward any particular technical or political stance, except that perhaps we can be more transparent in our justifications.
> In the immortal words of Voltaire, and Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility.
> -elijah
> --
> I prefer encrypted email -
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