Global Governance

The Future of the Internet: A Recap of IGF-USA 2015

The Internet is continually shaped by a numerous and diverse set of policymakers, civil society members, users, norms, communities, and programs that impact the way the web is used and managed. Because its scope is so large and ever-evolving, the Internet faces challenges of accessibility and openness. For the second year in a row IIEP (with leadership from Prof. Susan Aaronson and Kyle Renner) and the DC Chapter of The Internet Society (in particular David Vyorst) helped convene a diverse and representative group of U.S. stakeholders at the Internet Governance Forum – USA 2015 (available to watch via LiveStream) to discuss the most relevant topics of Internet governance and share their ideas with others who are actively shaping the Internet.

Questions covered over eight different panels and by numerous keynote speakers at our July 16th event included: How do we find a balance between protecting free speech and protecting individuals from damaging hate speech – and who should find the answer? What are the short- and long-term impacts of technologies like bitcoin and e-commerce, and how should we respond to such dramatic innovation? How should governments manage encryption – and should there be backdoors?

Kicking off the day, “Father of the Internet” Vint Cerf, ICANN Chairman Steve Crocker, and Larry Strickling of the NTIA addressed IGF-USA 2015, discussing issues of universal access, the importance of bringing the multistakeholder community together, and the evolution of the Internet over time. At the conception of the Internet, Vint Cerf remarked that “it was a bunch of American engineers supported by the Defense Department.” Today, access to the Internet is absolutely necessary to access economic opportunities – and Steve Crocker listed architectural, participatory, and informational openness as vital.

During breakout panel sessions, academics, journalists, and policymakers talked digital trade (in a session organized by Prof. Susan Aaronson), the Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity, ICANN accountability, digital rights, multistakeholder engagement, innovation, and “trolls” online. In the session looking at the line between free speech and hate speech (Truth and Trolls), panelists sought to determine whether the solution should come from the private sector, the government, or through a process of community monitoring. Courtney Radsch, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, observed that companies tend to err on the side of caution and limit journalism when it comes from high-risk areas, despite the repercussions of succumbing to threats and repression.

In some cases, as the Washington Post’s Greg Barber explained, the social nature of online communities lends itself to the organic creation of community monitoring norms. The panelists brought many different perspectives to the table, including a series of cases from Russia brought by Tanya Lokot, who explained that “no single solution works for everyone.”

At another topical panel, experts examined the challenges of creating and enforcing digital rights laws, bringing up issues like predictive policing and the government’s collection of data. As human rights attorney Jumana Musa of the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers remarked, data collection can often impede a lawyer’s efforts to represent their client as well as a defendant’s free trial rights. Even further, Kevin Bankston of New America pointed out the potential for data collection to reflect back on prejudices – as seen in access to applications, the bias of Google search algorithms, and more.

However, “the arch of the Internet bends toward justice – it just takes a while,” said Bankston.

The day continued with a plenary session focused on the challenge of “Connecting the Next Billion” and achieving universal access to the Internet – and particularly the necessity of adding this to global development agendas. As Christopher Burns of USAID explained, “achieving an inclusive digital economy doesn’t happen by itself or overnight.” U.S. State Department’s Manu Bhardwaj further noted that around 60% of the world is still unconnected. By focusing on achieving inclusivity and increasing Internet literacy, the panel agreed that we can eliminate huge barriers to economic opportunity.

If you missed IGF-USA 2015 or wanted to catch more breakout sessions, each panel is available to watch online along with photo highlights and a full event agenda. We would like to thank the attendees, speakers, organizers, and volunteers who made the IGF-USA 2015 a success!

For complete coverage and Live Stream video of last year’s IGF-USA 2014, please visit the conference page at To learn more about IIEP’s work related to Internet and global economic governance, check out our website.

Image credit: David Morar @morar


The Institute for International Economic Policy (IIEP), which is located within the Elliott School of International Affairs, serves as a catalyst for high quality, multi-disciplinary, and non-partisan research on policy issues surrounding economic globalization. The Institute research program helps develop effective policy options and academic analysis in a time of growing controversies about international economic integration in many countries around the world. The institute's work also encompasses policy responses for those who face continued poverty and financial crises despite worldwide economic growth. Affiliated faculty have appointments in the departments of economics, history, and political science as well as the law and business schools.

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