The Internet Engineering Task Force, the multi-stakeholder organization which shepherds the standards process for many of the technologies used on-line, is continuing to evolve that process. Protocol standards are already expected to include discussions on their security and privacy implications, in order to force an explicit conversation on those issues and hopefully encourage the development of secure systems. Beyond these, a new working group, the Human Rights Protocol Considerations group, was chartered last week. The group exists as part of the process of having another conversation around new protocols as they exist: what are the implications for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly that are wrapped up in our protocol design.
It seems like a question worth considering, especially as the IETF’s major contribution will be increasingly international. Many protocols emerging today are build by individual companies and are proprietary. We can hope however that it is at the boundaries of these walled ecosystems we create that standard protocols will need to be agreed upon. These boundaries will parallel our cultural discontinuities, and represent important places to have these conversations.
The group is drafting a methodology document as part of the background for proposing the update to the standards process. It’s an interesting way of thinking about protocols – how do they control or support individual expression? – that I hadn’t thought of before in those terms.