Looking to the Internet for models of governance

Abstract

If code is law then standards bodies are governments. This flawed but powerful metaphor suggests the need to examine more closely those standards bodies that are defining standards for the Internet. In this paper we examine the International Telecommunications Union, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association, the Internet Engineering Task Force, and the World Wide Web Consortium. We compare the organizations on the basis of participation, transparency, authority, openness, security and interoperability. We conclude that the IETF and the W3C are becoming increasingly similar. We also conclude that the classical distinction between standards and implementations is decreasingly useful as standards are embodies in code – itself a form of speech or documentation. Recent Internet standards bodies have flourished in part by discarding or modifying the implementation/standards distinction. We illustrate that no single model is superior on all dimensions. The IETF is not effectively scaling, struggling with its explosive growth with the creation of thousands of working groups. The IETF coordinating body, the Internet Society, addressed growth by reorganization that removed democratic oversight. The W3C, initially the most closed, is becoming responsive to criticism and now includes open code participants. The IEEE SA and ITU have institutional controls appropriate for hardware but too constraining for code. Each organization has much to learn from the others.

DOI: 10.1007/s10676-004-3250-3

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Cite this paper

@article{Vincent2004LookingTT, title={Looking to the Internet for models of governance}, author={Charles Vincent and J. Terese Camp}, journal={Ethics and Information Technology}, year={2004}, volume={6}, pages={161-173} }