How large an economic impact does the Internet have?
FADI CHEHADE: In 2016, the G20 economies alone will have a digital sector that exceeds $4.2 trillion. That's just the digital sector in the G20 economies. However, the networks enabled through the policies that come from here are also enabling the digital revolution to effect all other sectors: health, education, government itself, industry, are all effected by the enabling power of the networks.
A lot of people have heard of ICANN in passing but they don't really know what the organization is all about. What exactly does ICANN do?
FADI CHEHADE: ICANN is the non-profit organization that makes the Internet look like one Internet. In reality, the Internet is tens of thousands of networks around the world that serve all the users that connect their devices and their computers to these networks. But those networks are not one network. The way they look like one network is because we deploy what are called unique identifiers. An example of this is website names. When you type the name of a website on any device anywhere in the world, you get to that website, never fails. It has worked for 20 years, and it will continue to work because of what ICANN does.
We manage the unique identifiers that point you to devices and machines. The other thing we do which is important is we manage the numbers on all these devices. Every mobile phone, every computer, every device that talks to the Internet and now with the Internet of things, everything that talks to the Internet needs a number. Those numbers are unique. ICANN coordinates the distribution of these unique numbers across the planet to ensure that the Internet looks like one network, one Internet.
What are these numbers and what does it mean in the real world?
FADI CHEHADE: The numbers that we manage are IP numbers. Every device that has the ability to speak to the Internet, to connect to the Internet uniquely, should have typically a number and that number comes through the distribution mechanism of ICANN. Sometimes those numbers are attached to names. For example, www.ibm.com is actually a machine with a number, but there’s an associated name to a number so that you don't have to type a long number. You just type ibm.com and you find the machine with that unique number. We manage both, the numbers and the names.
The names in particular are important, because across the internet, we have something called the root-zone of the Internet. In fact, there is an area on the Internet where we maintain the tables that connect names to numbers. So that anyone typing any name around the world or linking to a search that they receive that search includes a domain name system address. We make sure that those addresses map to the right machines. And this system, under ICANN’s coordination, has never failed since ICANN was started 17 years ago.
In terms of overall Internet architecture, what innovative developments are currently taking place?
FADI CHEHADE: We always speak about innovation on the Internet in terms of technology, but I must tell you the current innovation on the Internet is happening in its governance. We are all as users of the Internet in the world, as governments, as businesses, as academics, as technical people, trying to figure out how to govern this very powerful resource. I say sometimes the Internet is like a powerful river that crosses boundaries and countries and people. And how do we manage rivers. Do we block them? We don't.
The Internet crosses borders and it crosses the Westphalian nation state model
We cooperate in mechanisms that allow us to build damns and bridges and various agreements on how to share water that allow us to all share that river. Right now the Internet is a powerful river that is actually changing industry and changing the world. I call it, almost the uber-ization of everything that is happening. And how we agree to govern it needs to have the same level of innovation as how we built it. And that is currently what many stakeholders are actually working hard to figure out.
Where are we going next with regards to Internet ICT technology?
FADI CHEHADE: Looking forward, I think we need to focus very closely on how to balance security with innovation and privacy. And this three-legged stool is a complex one to balance. Some would like to increase levels of security. Most of us do, because without security the network cannot be trusted. Others would like to make sure that innovation is left permissionless and completely open. And they are right, because it is through the innovations that everything we do in the Internet and in the networks beneath it is possible. And then many others would like to see that this openness and this security do not impugn on the privacy of the individual as they work in that network.
I think the challenge in how we build technologies and policies that allow for these three elements to be balanced. And I think the difficulty further comes from the fact that our values are not all universal. So there are people who would value security over privacy. Others who would prefer innovation to privacy. We don't have a set of global common principles for how we do this in a trans-national environment because the Internet crosses borders and it crosses the Westphalian nation state model. And therefore we need to find values above that unite us and balance these three areas.