06 October 2020

Today’s blog post looks at some key ideas discussed at NetThing 2020, held online and in Brisbane last week on October 1&2. Afilias was proud to sponsor the event and help NetThing succeed as a platform for driving action within the Australian Internet community. 

To open the event on October 1, NetThing Chair Andrew Maurer shared with us the key themes of NetThing 2020 to be highlighted when addressing the “multifaceted ratsnest of issues” relating to the Internet in Australia:

  • Policy
  • Inclusion
  • Technology
  • Security; and
  • The Future

Each of these issues were explored by the various panels on day 1, and again in the interactive workshops on day 2, but below we look at some of the primary concepts we identified as areas of imminent action.

Data privacy, regulation and control

The opening speaker, Geoff Husten, Chief Scientist at APNIC, said that in today’s world, it is easy to view things with suspicion and distrust. He shared with us the reality that the problem of Internet governance is still broken and that it is not about making it better, it is about getting more people on board to help out. 

His keynote helped set the scene for the discussion that followed in the panel “The Growing Role of Digital Platforms in our Society”, which addressed a number of areas including regulation, consumer protection, privacy and giving consumers greater control of their data. 

Malcolm Crompton, Former Privacy Commissioner and Advisor raised an interesting point that almost everything in the world has been created by people we haven’t even met. We put huge amounts of trust in things like aeroplanes and listen to advice from the doctor without necessarily questioning it, suggesting this is why we are doing this with our actions online too. He stressed the importance of remaining interested in shaping the future direction of Internet governance within Australia so that together, we can figure out what we are going to do about it.

System security

The panel on “Internet Infrastructure Security” shared some insightful information on system outages and looked at how the DNS can be exploited to launch many types of attacks. Vanessa Teague, Cryptographer focused on these, highlighting that attacks involving “DNS Hijacking” remain prevalent. Panelists examined the risks in relying too much on automation and asked us to reconsider our views on “security” versus “privacy”, as these are two very separate issues and there is an unrealistic expectation that security will take care of privacy. There was agreement that vulnerabilities in the DNS and other infrastructure are being exploited, suggesting that the glue that connects everyone and creates the internet (Border Gateway Protocol) is out of date.

Panelists emphasised the need to focus on the lower layers that the internet is running on; that we should start from the bottom and try to fix this. Mark Gregory, Associate Professor at RMIT University told attendees that the first step is creating awareness of where system and infrastructure security stands in Australia, with his primary concern being that the “degree of inaction is leaving internet infrastructure in an insecure state”. 

Marginalised voices and misrepresentation online

The final panel of day 1 looked at ‘Censorship and Expression Online: Whose voices are Amplified and Whose are Silenced?’ This panel focused on the notion of free expression and addressed voices facing disproportionate representation online, often attributed to unjust algorithms and policies. 

This afternoon session was moderated by Yasmin Abdel Magied, Writer and Changemaker and featured leading voices in the space Lola Hunt, Co-Founder of Assembly Four, Claire Fitszimmons, Founder and Director of Salty and Celeste Carnegie who works in Community Engagement at Indigitek. Panelists agreed that it felt as though there was a small difference between their real and virtual self, and that as members of marginalised communities they found that they needed to go that extra bit further to keep themselves safe from online harassment, deliberate exclusion and hate speech.

The idea that the general public has no influence or visibility on the decision making processes that are used to determine a platform’s value was a concern for participants. In an effort to combat this, we were encouraged to access the communities that are important to us, research the issues that may be affecting them and fight for diversity to support these underrepresented voices.

Coming together on Day 2

Day 2 sessions included a “Beginners Guide to Internet Governance within Australia”, an overview of “DNS Abuse” and an “Australian at Home” themed tech-talk. In the afternoon, .au Domain Administration (auDA) asked for input on their strategic priorities and future approach for the .au namespace which was a very interactive session. Attendees were grouped together and allocated an area to consider, for example auDA’s role in ensuring a reliable, stable and secure .au namespace.

After an engaging two days, NetThing 2020 reminded us all that the internet is a complex, always-changing space and that through the aggregation of diverse views and opinions, we can play a part in driving action and advocating for change. Afilias is excited to be involved, and we look forward to watching as the conversation continues and outcomes are achieved in the year ahead.

For more information on the role Internet governance plays within society check out what Melinda Clem, Vice President of Afilias has to say in this video on The Importance of Internet Governance.

Have a question, comment or idea for a future blog post? Email us at blog@afilias.com.au today.

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