Contributing to our Global and Local Societies by Vint Cerf

Members of our network may recall that Senior Fellow Dr. Nagy Hanna was a founding member of the secretariat for the People-Centered Internet project, chaired by internet founder-visionary and Google evangelist Vint Cerf.

We are pleased to share this recent commentary from Vint Cerf.

Those of us with a long history of working with the Internet have been enthusiastic supporters of its continued spread, evolution and accessibility. We have been driven by a belief that it can be a strong contributor to a better society for everyone on the planet. As Shakespeare reminds us, however, humans are what they are, with their peculiar mix of strengths and frailties. We are, in some sense, the Internet or at least what we have made of it and will make of it in the future. Knowing that it can be and has been used for harmful purposes is a painful reminder that Lincoln’s “angels of our better nature” are sometimes countered by devils we wish were less apparent. All this underscores the importance of increasing attention to protecting the users of the Internet from abuse by other users and, sad to say, national regimes that do not always have at heart the best interests of their own citizens, nor of the citizens of other countries. Criminal and state-sponsored hacking and other attacks are unwelcome parts of the environment of the network in this 21st Century.

Lest this brief intervention seem too gloomy, I hasten to point out that new technology and application of well-known methods can bolster the network’s and host computer’s resistance to various forms of attack. Brute force denial of service attacks and subtle spear phishing attacks can be defended against with technical means and with an informed user population. National and even international legal regimes can help to deal with transnational abuses but this will require a significant degree of cooperation. Ironically, that same kind of cooperation has been the primary reason that the Internet has penetrated so deeply into the world’s infrastructure. The creation and adoption of voluntary standards have been key to the interoperability that has given the Internet such appeal and utility.

As we pursue new ways to make the Internet more useful to more people, we will also need to pay increased attention to protecting users from harm and to incentives to bring out the better angels of our nature. The People Centered Internet community is a manifestation of the very human desire to contribute in positive ways to our global and local societies. The Internet is an amplifier of these natural inclinations and I hope it is put to use for the benefit of all who partake of its bounty and contribute to it.