The Journal of History     Winter 2006    TABLE OF CONTENTS


This v-week in Packetistan / Dispatch from Tunis: The Civil Society Summit That Wasn't

Date: Nov 18, 2005 6:54 PM
This v-week in Packetistan
It is busy, busy, busy in packetistan.

Last week was the 64th IETF in Vancouver. Last week was also the ICANN meeting, also in Vancouver. Last week also "hosted" (temporal pun) a hearing of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on legislation to create a statutory framework for Internet Protocol and Broadband Services. This week it's the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.

These are all related.

The WSIS is attempting to find a means of jurisdictionalizing a model that has no spatial, or temporal properties. Jon Postel used iso3166 labels, aka "country codes" (but Christmas Island is not a "country"), to delegate create/change/delete operations in a database. He could have used x.121 regions, aka "continents," or technical mechanisms that have no simple, and misleading, analogy. The WSIS is also attempting to allocate resources that pre-existed Jon, the set of all 32-bit network endpoint identifiers, aka "addresses." Superficial issues are symptoms of ajurisdictionalism, Nigerian 419s, phishing, and so on.

One can look at this as an attempt to upset a working neutral apple cart for mere "political interests." One can also look at this as attempting right an apple cart that was tipped on its side some time ago by mere "corporate interests." Note Bene: The ARPA or DARPA Net originally "worked" simply as a testbed survivable communication system for the C3I requirements of a nuclear weapons state committed to winning a global thermonuclear war.

Is a 501(c)(3) in California, which really is managed by Verisign, in the same sense that BigPharma manages most of Congress, on the issues that matter, the only, or the best answer to the question of what to do now that Jon is dead? Its been five years and ICANN is still the laughing stock of the technical community that trusted Jon, and created the model around that distributed, transitive, trust. Is the DoC the only, or the best answer to the question of what to do with ICANN?

I recommend reading the Human Rights Watch take on the Tunis round of the WSIS. Media oligarchies vs all the strengths and weaknesses of nation states.

The STI is attempting to find a means of jurisdictionalizing a model that has no link type or flow temporal properties. In the US, there is a regulatory framework for telecommunications, arising out of the predatory "Universal Service" bill of goods that AT&T sold to state and federal regulators to recover market share lost after the expiry of its patents in 1894, until "dual service" ment AT&T technology, and eventually, AT&T peering and pricing. There is also a regulatory framework for community access television (CATV).

Where a CATV or Baby Bell operator's subscriber (access) network attaches to a carrier or backbone the link type, whether over cable or over telco, packets exiting the access network looses the link type information (link encapsulation is removed). Similarly, packets entering the access network acquire the link type information (link encapsulation is added).

Panel 1 is the lobbists from SBC, Alcatel, Earthlink, XO1, Verizon2, Insight, Nat. Assn. of Broadcasters, Nat. Assn of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors and Microsoft. The "neutrality" that is being discussed is a "neutrality" that gets monopoly lobbiests out in force. Can they legally filter on link type? Can telco and CATV monopolies depricate each others' traffic, recreating walled gardens so beloved by the mobile operator market?

In Maine Verizon+Maine's Independent Telcos, Adelphia+TimeWarner, and (absurdly) Central Maine Power, all want "neutrality" and "broadband" to favor their subscriber access networks, their copper, their executives, shareholders and employees. Independent ISPs and ISPs that service dial-up (price points under $10/subscriber-month) are outside the scope of "neutrality." As goes Maine, so goes the nation.

One of my technical goals for the near future is to make Wampum available in low-bandwidth and high-bandwidth forms, and to finally take a look at Wampum from a visually handicapped access point of ... view. Blogging has to be more than just laundry exchanged between digital yuptos provisioned with broadband at a $50/subscriber-month price point.

The ICANN meeting was dominated by the Verisign marketing triumph. It's just corruption on the march, and about as unlikely to catch anyone's attention outside of a small number of people than the tax on basic telephony service that funded (in a small part) the Viet Nam War.

IETF meetings are rarely externally significant. The 48th meeting in Pittsburg was a rare exception, one that my trip to Pittsburg last week (an interview, outcome unknown) brought to mind. At IETF-48 we adopted a position on cyphers that was contrary to the position of a nation state. The position we adopted was that "strong encryption" could be specified with "MUST" language. The position of the nation state was that no specification could require anything other than than "weak encryption." That was the meeting where, at least momentarily, the IETF became an International Standards Body. The nation state in question was the United States. The same issue was revisited at IETF-51, when another nation state insisted that only weakly encrypted data enter its jurisdiction. The IETF hasn't been back to London since.

I don't know how to characterize in 25 words or less IETF-64. The last time I was in Vancouver was IETF-18. The guy in the adjacent dorm room was also named "Brunner," from somewhere inside of the Bell system, and I was there on the DOD's nickle, via SRI. One thing is certain however, every meeting since IETF-44 (Minneapolis) has had ICANN Chair and Board members attempting to wrap themselves in the technical legitimacy of the IETF.

If anything surprising comes out of the WSIS I'll blog on it or post a link to someone who has. For the moment the WSIS hasn't decided to set a date to pull authority for the root zone out of suites overlooking beautiful Marina del Rey.


1 In the relatively recent past I've bought OC-3 transit data circuits from XO to the XO OC-192 mesh.
2 In the relatively recent past I've bought DS-3 backhaul (dialup) and OC-3 transit data circuits from Verizon.


The World Summit on the Information Society Dispatch from Tunis: The Civil Society Summit That Wasn't (Tunis, November 14, 2005) ­ Today as a global summit on the Internet got underway, the Tunisian government did all it could to smother a local summit on the same topic. One might think that a world conference on improving global Internet access represents a prime chance for the government to reverse its reputation for intolerance of dissent, but the day's events proved it to be an opportunity missed.

The streets and landmark buildings of downtown Tunis are festooned with red national flags and portraits of President Ben Ali, while plainclothes police patrol in large numbers outside almost every major hotel and at known gathering points of Tunisia's small human rights community. Meanwhile, some 10 kilometers away in the northern suburb of Kram, dignitaries, diplomats and members of accredited civil society and press organizations gathered to attend preliminary parallel sessions of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), whose official sessions open on November 16. But much of the Tunisian human rights community was barred from the global conference and thwarted in attempts to meet independently.

The government of Tunisia tolerates little dissent. Human rights organizations operate under heavy restrictions, and many are denied legal recognition by the authorities. Peaceful meetings of human rights activists are often blocked by plainclothes police who forcibly disperse would-be participants.

Cancelled venue
Many Tunisian human rights organizations that might have participated in WSIS could not for lack of formal legal status in Tunisia. For this reason, they together with international human rights organizations in town for the WSIS prepared to hold a parallel event in Tunis called the Citizen's Summit to debate the same issues that would be discussed at the WSIS conference events. To that end, they rented a venue at the Hotel Oriental Palace, a major hotel in Tunis, and created a website with a schedule for the alternate summit.

On November 10, the hotel notified organizers of the Citizen's Summit that the hall was no longer available, citing the sudden need for repair work at that time. The abrupt unavailability of a venue for gatherings by unauthorized groups has been part of a pattern of harassment, as has forcible disruption of "unauthorized" assemblies by plainclothes police.

Police intimidation
This morning at roughly 9 a.m., representatives of the organizations planning the Citizen's Summit planned to meet at the Goethe Institute, a German cultural institute, in downtown Tunis, but were prevented from entering by several dozen plainclothes police. The police, who refused to identify themselves or give any explanation of their actions, manhandled Tunisian and foreign activists, knocking down several individuals as they pushed them along the streets. The police also confiscated the camera from a Belgian television cameraman who came to tape the scene, returning it without its cartridge, and attempted to confiscate the camera from a Swiss photojournalist, telling him it was forbidden to take pictures.

Among those who were dispersed by the authorities were Souhayr Belhassen, vice-president of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Sihem Bensedrine, Omar Mestiri, and Om Zied of the National Council for Freedom in Tunisia (an unauthorized organization), Mahmoud Dhaouadi, a member of the Union of Tunisian Journalists, (an unauthorized organization), and representatives of Human Rights Watch (New York); the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH, Paris), Front Line (Dublin), the World Association for Community Radio Broadcasters (Montreal), the Association for Progressive Communication (Johannesburg), and the Human Rights Caucus of WSIS. Eventually, some of these delegates were able to meet when a high-level German diplomat attending WSIS and a Swiss diplomat personally hosted them at a nearby café. However, they had to leave when the cafĂ© owner informed them that police surrounding the establishment said he would have to close it if they remained on the premises.

A second event of the Citizen's Summit scheduled for the afternoon was also thwarted by Tunisian authorities. The Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD) had organized a meeting under the auspices of the Citizens Summit, on the theme of woman in the information society. They had rented the Espace TĂ©atro in the Hotel Mechtel. Three days ago, that hotel official contacted the ATFD and informed it that the hall was no longer available. The ATFD decided to hold the event instead at its offices in downtown Tunis, at 5:00 pm. At that time, persons approaching the office to attend were confronted by plainclothes police, who informed them that the meeting was forbidden, and that they had orders to deny access to the site. The meeting could not take place.

At approximately 10 p.m., Omar Mestiri, of the National Council for Freedom in Tunisia, attempted to meet a Lebanese human rights activist visiting Tunis for WSIS at a local hotel. Police at the entrance prevented Mestiri from entering the building. After a brief confrontation, Mestiri was detained for approximately 90 minutes at a police station before being allowed to leave.

A select few
The limited participation of Tunisian civil society in the WSIS conference is reflected in the venue of the conference, in an exposition park at a distance from the city center, reached via a heavily guarded road. Only delegates with conference badges can even approach the site.

At a panel in the WSIS compound organized by Human Rights Watch today on Internet censorship in the Middle East, the question-and-answer period was dominated by individuals representing government-approved Tunisian organizations, who praised the government and contested the characterization of Tunisia as a country that practiced censorship and surveillance. Human Rights Watch has documented Tunisia's record with regard to development and restriction of the Internet in a report to be released November 15. The few truly independent Tunisian human rights organizations that are accredited to the WSIS have stayed away, in solidarity with those that are not accredited to attend. No representative of Tunisian organizations that might have been able to share information about Internet surveillance or censorship was present at the panel.

Throughout the day, access to the Web site of the Citizen's Summit,, was intermittently unavailable in Tunisia. Tunisian human rights activists have also reported difficulty accessing their usual email services.


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