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Privacy & Data

A Report from IETF 75

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 75th meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), one of the leading international technical standards bodies for the Internet. For many years, CDT has sought to engage in technical standards work as a means to foster communication between the technology and public policy communities, while also ensuring that the public interest is well represented in standards development. As I’ve become increasingly engaged in IETF activities over the past year (see my first post from a year ago, the breadth of topics that intersect with CDT’s policy work has continued to expand. Although it may not be immediately obvious to an outside observer, the work of the IETF has a crucial impact on whether the Internet will remain open, innovative and free.

Here’s a recap of a few highlights from the week-long meeting held in Stockholm, Sweden:

– The meeting included a plenary session about net neutrality (slides are available on the IETF web site under Thursday Plenary). The goal of the plenary was to help inform the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) about what the IETF might do in the net neutrality space and how the IETF is affected by net neutrality debates. The IAB has architectural oversight over IETF activities.

Barbara van Schewick from the Stanford Center for Internet & Society was invited in to introduce the topic. She was followed by Mark Handley, a long-time IETF participant who suggested that by focusing on developing protocols that reduce congestion, the IETF could helpfully contribute to easing some of the strains that can cause network operators to contemplate discriminatory treatment of network traffic in the first place. During the open microphone portion, several participants echoed Mark’s suggestions, while others articulated the desire for the IETF to take a stronger stance against discriminatory ISP behavior. All in all, it was a fruitful discussion, and I’m anxious to see what the IAB might do with the feedback it received.

– While the plenary highlighted some ongoing congestion-related work, the real action is taking place in some of the IETF’s working groups focused on the problem. I was pleased to note that work is progressing steadily in two different groups that were created last year — known as ALTO and LEDBAT — in the wake of a workshop co-organized by CDT (the RFC describing the workshop has just been published). These groups have been chartered to develop protocols that may help mitigate the congestion effects that peer-to-peer traffic can have on the network. Peer-to-peer issues seem to be capturing the attention of a wider and wider audience within the standards community, as several more informal sessions were also organized last week to discuss p2p-related caching and streaming.

The Internet Society (ISOC) hosted a panel in conjunction with the IETF meeting to highlight recent efforts to secure the Domain Name System (DNS), an integral part of the Internet infrastructure that maps the names of Internet resources to their addresses on the network. The panel included updates from those operating a number of the most widely used domains (.com, .net, .org, .edu, and the host country’s .se). The news is good: security updates (in the form of a protocol known as DNSSEC) have been or will shortly be rolled out on all of these domains, adding a crucial layer of protection to the Internet’s addressing infrastructure.

– Finally, the work of the GEOPRIV group (which I co-chair) is also progressing. The goal of GEOPRIV is to develop protocols that convey location information on the Internet in a privacy-protective way. Members of the group are currently focused on taking the architecture, which includes built-in privacy features, and applying it to a number of existing Internet protocols. As we noted in a recent policy post, location-based services are becoming front-and-center, and the work of the GEOPRIV group has contributed and will continue to contribute useful technical underpinnings for many of these services.