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Cybersecurity & Standards

Report – A Guide to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for Public Interest Advocates

Also authored by Joey Salazar the Chair of DANE Authentication for Network Clients Everywhere (dance) working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and Mehwish Ansari, the Head of Digital at ARTICLE 19.


The internet today is shaped by standards and protocols that technical communities and regulatory bodies develop and implement. A key purpose of internet standardisation is to ensure interoperability across a heterogeneous network of networks. Because the internet is fundamental to free and full participation in modern life, internet standards have significant implications for human rights – including peoples’ freedom of expression, freedom of access to information, freedom of association, right to protest, privacy, and anonymity. To ensure that the norms, values, and principles inscribed in internet standards enable, rather than threaten, these rights, the bodies and decision-makers that develop standards must include stakeholders that represent the widest range of individuals and communities that are impacted by the internet, and put people at the center of design decisions.

In this field, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is a key internet standards developing organisation that sets the mechanisms for Internet communications. With a mission to make the internet work better for all, it produces technical documents that influence the way people design, use, and manage the internet. These standards fundamentally determine how data moves across the internet, and bear implications on peoples’ human rights. The IETF’s efforts are considered a bright star in the global technical governance constellation, and so it is particularly important to address the challenges of building meaningful multistakeholderism within the IETF community. 

The latest report, compiled by CDT and ARTICLE 19, deliberates on the issue of monoculture in the IETF, and explores how we can better promote ‘multi-stakeholderism’ in the IETF to ensure that the mechanisms that govern the internet have the conditions for effective and meaningful participation of all stakeholders. In A Guide to the IETF for Public Interest Advocates, we urge civil society and academia to consider engaging in the IETF as part of broader efforts to ensure that the internet enables the public interest, including the realisation of human rights online. We argue that the design of internet standards must include participation from a diversity of stakeholder voices that advocate for the public interest, so that the real needs and perspectives of our complex and heterogeneous society are fully reflected in the design and development of critical internet technologies.

However, there are several major challenges to public interest advocates’ sustained and effective engagement in the IETF, as this work requires significant investments in time, financial resources, and capacity. Even when members of civil society organisations, academia, and other underrepresented public interest advocates overcome these challenges, they must figure out how to be strategic, proactive, and collaborative in this space. This guide explains why the IETF matters to the public interest, how the IETF functions, and how to effectively participate in the IETF.

Read the full report here.