This report reflects the deliberations of the drafting panel on The Global Information Infrastructure that met on March 29 and 30, 1995 during the Forum on the Role of Science and Technology in Promoting National Security and Global Stability. The report was compiled by the session drafter and is a summary of the issues raised during the discussion. All points do not necessarily represent the views of all of the participants.
The important role that information technology can play in economic development and national security was a recurring theme in several of the talks given at the Forum. Many speakers, most notably Esther Dyson of Edventure Holdings and Jean-Francois Rischard from the World Bank, commented on the many opportunities--and challenges--that advanced telecommunications and computing technologies offer.
To explore these issues in depth, a working group on the Global Information Infrastructure (GII) was convened and spent more than four hours examining how information technology and the development of a global seamless "network of networks" might affect U.S. national security and foster sustainable development around the world. The group was a diverse one, with members representing more than 10 Federal agencies, a variety of companies, and a number of different backgrounds--foreign policy experts, technologists, and telecommunication policy experts. This diversity of opinion provided for a lively--and at times, contentious--discussion of a wide range of issues, from encryption to the proper role of the Federal government in addressing national security issues raised by new digital technologies. This paper attempts to capture the spirit and the content of the discussion. It also summarizes many of the key points regarding the Global Information Infrastructure made by speakers during the plenary sessions of the Forum.
Michael Nelson of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), who, with John Gage from Sun Microsystems, co-chaired the working group, opened the first session by setting the scene. The purpose of the group was to provide input for an 8-10 page paper on the Global Information Infrastructure, national security, and sustainable development which would help guide foreign policy makers, including the President.
The Administration has made the GII a top priority. Nelson provided a working definition for the GII--"a system to enable anyone to get and distribute the information they need, when and where they want--at an affordable price." That information could be data from a database, a videoconference with colleagues, your bank balance, or reruns of "I Love Lucy." A number of participants stressed that the real power of the GII stems from communication--access to people--rather than simply access to information.
The GII will be built and run by thousands of different companies using a wide range of technologies for an almost unlimited number of applications (many of which we can't even imagine today). The type of technology used will depend critically on local resources, market economics, and the specific applications needed. Rather than spend time trying to describe what the GII is, discussion focused on what it will do.
To frame the debate, the group developed lists of the opportunities and the challenges--the "good news" and the "bad news"--faced by policy makers. The first day of discussion was devoted to discussing the opportunities, while the second day was spent on the challenges.
The working group believes that the GII will enable dramatic improvements in education, health care, scientific research, government, manufacturing, commerce, environment, economic development, and a host of other areas. Advanced information technology will:
The group realized it would not be able to adequately address all of these topics. However, John Gage summed up the consensus of the group when he stated that "no matter what the question, the answer is--the network." In other words, the goal should be to give more information to more people. The challenge is to do that with limited resources and in a way that deals with the conflicting needs for privacy, law enforcement, intelligence-gathering, national sovereignty, and effective governance.
The rest of the first session was devoted to the opportunities of the GII, particularly in the area of sustainable development. Geoffrey Cowan, Director of Voice of America (VOA) began that discussion with an excellent summary of how VOA is dramatically expanding its ability to use radio to reach the people of Africa. This was followed by a discussion on whether information agencies like VOA and USIA could be phased out or redirected since the new global television and news services (CNN, Reuters, etc.) are doing a much better job of providing balanced news reporting to more people than the agencies could ever afford to. On the other hand, commercial services do not broadcast in Ukrainian, Serbian, and many other languages, and those cannot reach many of the people who rely on VOA and USIA. In addition, VOA and USIA are very important ways for the U.S. government to demonstrate its commitment to freedom, democracy, and the free flow of information.
Sy Goodman (Stanford University) felt an interesting way to examine the economic benefits of the GII was to consider how the 5.5 billion people on Earth spend their time and how the GII will change that. If people spend more time using information and less time consuming material goods, the GII could have major environmental impacts. There was a discussion of how it is possible that as the consumption of information displaces the consumption of material goods, we will effectively re-define what "standard of living" means. Therefore, it would be possible for people throughout the world to experience an increasing standard of living even though their consumption of material goods will not raise proportionately. In other words, a modest shift in material goods to the developing world, accompanied by significantly increased information services (including entertainment), will be perceived as a satisfactory increase in standard of living by everyone, without consuming additional material resources.
Irving Lerch from the American Physical Association highlighted the need to do more to connect researchers in the developing world, since today in many fields (e.g. physics) it is impossible to stay at the leading edge without being able to collaborate with colleagues electronically. The spread of electronic publishing could enable scientists in the developing world to have access to information previously only available in journals that they cannot presently afford--assuming that electronic publishers make the necessary effort to reach readers in developing and cash-poor countries.
Bob Lucky from Bellcore described how fast the GII is growing, citing the startling growth of the World Wide Web on the Internet as one example. According to Lucky, industry views security as the biggest problem standing the way of the rapid deployment and widespread use of the GII and stressed that addressing this issue properly will require changes in U.S. encryption policy.
Recommendations. The group then focused on what Federal government agencies, particularly the information agencies such as VOA and the U.S. Information Agency, could do to use information technology to foster sustainable development and facilitate greater access to information overseas. Suggestions offered by different Forum participants included the following:
Most of the second drafting session of the working group was devoted to the challenges posed by the development of the Global Information Infrastructure. While there was a unanimous feeling that the benefits of the GII far outweighed the downsides, but it was clear that there are a number of policy problems that need to be addressed if all of the potential benefits of the GII are to be realized. Concerns raised include:
John Gage and Sy Goodman framed the issues well by compiling the following list of areas where most national governments presently exert authority or control:
In most of these areas, development of the GII will reduce the authority of national governments. The working group attempted to ascertain what problems this may create, where governments really need to continue to maintain authority and where governments should just get out of the way, and what changes in policy may be needed as a result.
Encryption. Attention turned first to encryption policy, since encryption is a critical issue when addressing security, digital money, anonymity, intellectual property, and content issues. There was vigorous debate over U.S. government controls on the export of encryption technology. Most industry representatives argued vehemently in favor of lifting export controls on DES and other forms of strong encryption. A number of government officials and others argued that doing so would significantly hinder the ability of the President and other top policy-makers to have access to the intelligence information they need to develop effective foreign policy, address the threat of proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, fight international organized crime, drug cartels, and terrorism, and open foreign markets for American companies.
There was an extended discussion of the Clipper Chip and other proposals for key- escrow encryption technologies, which government officials suggested may provide the privacy protection people need without completely undermining the ability of law enforcement officials to use wiretaps to fight crime and terrorism. Critics of such approaches pointed out the difficulty of developing the multi-lateral agreements needed to make a global key-escrow system work. The only consensus in the group was that a effective, inexpensive, standardized global solution was urgently needed to the problem of encryption, digital signature, authentication, and integrity. Without one, many of the potential applications of the GII (e.g. electronic commerce) will not be fully developed. Encryption is also an important tool for improving the security of the GII.
Another problem posed by encryption is liability. If the employee of a company were to use strong encryption to encode critical corporate data and disappear, die, or refuse to divulge the key needed to decode the data, both the company and the seller of the encryption product could be liable for damage caused to customers. To address this problem, there may need to be laws or regulations defining the liability of users and providers of encryption. The need of companies to have access to any data encrypted by their employees may spur the adoption of key-escrow encryption technologies.
Intellectual Property Rights. The working group felt it was important that the U.S. government and other governments work together to protect intellectual property in cyberspace. The Administration has made IPR protection a key tenet of its Global Information Infrastructure initiative because it believes that unless producers of content carried on the GII can protect their copyright they will not make their data, text, music, video programming, and other material available on-line. Development of consistent international IPR regimes by the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Trade Organization (e.g. GATT TRIPS) is essential as the GII makes possible a global information marketplace. Unfortunately, many countries have been slow to adopt or implement the agreements reached at WIPO and WTO. Development of micropayment systems that would enable network users to easily and quickly pay for the electronic information they use could also help ensure that IPR owners are properly compensated for their information.
Control of information flow. The group next turned to the question of government controls on the transmission of information. Today, the U.S. government limits the use of networks for transmitting information inside and across its borders for many reasons, including the following:
In addition, in other countries, governments attempt to restrict access to information viewed as undermining the authority of the government, religious beliefs, or social mores. Some countries also restrict or monitor individuals' communications in order to block political opposition. Governments not only try to restrict access to information and communications, they also produce and disseminate information, often in order to further their policy goals or political aims.
The development of the GII, particularly satellite systems like Iridium or Teledesic, will make it much harder for governments to control information flows. Many national governments which impose tight information controls today, will be forced to choose between maintaining those controls or becoming part of the global, networked economy. The U.S. should promote the lifting of such restrictions wherever possible.
In addition, the working group felt that governments need to ensure that the GII is not used for propaganda that promotes ethnic strife and bloodshed. Since censorship will become more and more difficult, the best course would seem to be to promote development of a wide range of information sources which could counter the disinformation or misinformation broadcast by hate groups or authoritarian governments.
Control of Currency. Already today, governments are seeing the impact that telecommunications technology is having on their ability to control the value of their currency. The recent twenty percent drop in the value of the dollar vis-a-vis the Japanese yen, which was driven by international currency traders linked to global telecommunications networks, is just one example.
The spread of digital cash and other systems for moving money electronically will further diminish the ability of governments to control currency flows. The ability of billions of people to effortlessly move money around the world in order to buy products and services will necessitates a careful reexamination of policies with regard to:
Control of networks. National governments have traditionally controlled--and in most cases owned and operated--their country's telecommunications networks. Control of communications networks was seen as essential for national defense, law enforcement, and responding to natural and man-made disasters. However, new digital technologies are reducing the barriers to entry in the telecommunication market and in many countries new privately-owned cellular telephone, satellite, cable TV, and digital telephone companies are competing with the incumbent providers. By opening up the telecommunications sector to competition, many countries have been able to dramatically increase investment and development of their information infrastructure. The result has been better and more affordable telecommunications services for individuals, businesses, and government.
However, having hundreds of competing companies, including foreign companies, providing telecommunication services in the U.S. does raise several concerns for the U.S. government, including the following:
Anonymity. In order to function, governments need to have basic information about their citizens--name, address, taxable income. Today, using "anonymous remailers," which forward electronic mail messages after stripping off the return address, users of the Internet can send truly anonymous messages to millions of people. With the development of anonymous digital cash, Internet users will also be able to transact business anonymously in cyberspace. The potential for criminal use is obvious: anonymous death threats and harassing messages, blackmail, and the dissemination of contraband (stolen documents and trade secrets, nuclear materials, and child pornography) will all be made much, much easier.
While anonymity is a valuable tool for protecting privacy and can enable political dissent in repressive societies, it also poses very serious implications for law enforcement. There is a clear need for international rules on the use of anonymity; this is another possible issue to address at a proposed "cyber-summit." A key question will be whether governments support the issuance of anonymous or pseudonymous digital signatures, since without an effective digital signature it will be more difficult for individuals to fully participate in electronic commerce. It may be that tight controls have to be placed on use of anonymous digital cash or least the movement of large amounts of anonymous digital cash.
Security. National governments invest billions of dollars in protecting the security of government information systems in order to protect government data, whether tax records, census data, military secrets, medical records, or technical information. Government also work with industry to promote development and deployment of more secure computer systems and networks in the private sector. The working group felt strongly that the U.S. government needs to redouble its efforts to protect the GII from hackers and saboteurs.
Many participants felt that widespread use of effective encryption was an essential component to any strategy for doing so. It was also suggested that there is a need to rationalize U.S. laws on computer crime, many of which were enacted before the full flowering of the Internet and which have not kept pace with technology. There is also a need to harmonize laws on computer crime which can vary significantly from country to country. Unfortunately, there is no single U.S. government agency which has the lead in this area. Nor is there an international organization which has made computer security and data protection a top priority.
The working group on the Global Information Infrastructure found there was no shortage of important issues relating to the GII, sustainable development, and national security. What has been lacking have been the resources and attention needed to take advantage of the opportunities and address the challenges posed by the GII. The group succeeded in identifying the issues; much more time will be needed to determine how these issues will be resolved and who will have responsibility for doing so.
Although the group devoted more time to the possible problems that the Global Information Infrastructure will pose for U.S. national security, the members were unanimous in their conviction that the benefits of the GII--in terms of promoting sustainable development, fostering democracy and understanding, and improving the standards of living around the world--far out-weigh the problems it presents. There was also a consensus that the Digital Revolution is happening whether policy-makers are prepared or not and that the national security and foreign policy communities must devote more attention to critical issues, such as the security of telecommunication networks, encryption policy, improving the use of information and telecommunication technologies in foreign aid programs, and ensuring that electronic money and intellectual property can be safely transmitted over the GII. It is hoped that this report will stimulate further discussion and policy formulation in these areas.
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