Eric Burger: Certainly. So today I am a trustee of the Internet Society. Started work­ing on Internet and Internet tech­nolo­gies back in the ear­ly 80s at MIT, doing work on actu­al­ly appli­ca­tions, on sim­u­la­tion. Through the years I’ve been chair of the SIP Forum, which deals with com­mu­ni­ca­tions over the Internet. I’ve been chair of the IEEE USA Committee on Communications Policy, which basi­cal­ly advis­es the American gov­ern­ment, and Congress, and agen­cies on basi­cal­ly the tech­ni­cal side of any pol­i­cy issues that come up. And I was also a direc­tor of the International Packet Communications Consortium, which again was deal­ing with voice and video com­mu­ni­ca­tions over the Internet. 

In the com­mer­cial world, I was head of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions prod­ucts divi­sion of BEA sys­tems and the chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer of NuStar. And today I run the secu­ri­ty and soft­ware engi­neer­ing research cen­ter at Georgetown University where we’re work­ing on secure com­mu­ni­ca­tions and help­ing enter­pris­es and peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate secure­ly on the Internet. 

In the IETF I’ve been a trustee of the IETF Trust. I’ve writ­ten a num­ber of Request For Comments or the stan­dards that come out of the IETF. I’ve been a work­group chair, and prob­a­bly the work­group that peo­ple can relate to the most was a work­group that did mobile mes­sag­ing. So how to bring the Internet to your mobile phone. 

Intertitle: Describe one of the break­through moments or move­ments of the Internet in which you have been a key participant.

Burger: On the tech­ni­cal side I start­ed a com­pa­ny in the year 2000 deal­ing with how to cre­ate appli­ca­tions on the Internet, and par­tic­u­lar­ly tar­get­ed towards com­mu­ni­ca­tions car­ri­ers. And at the time, peo­ple were lit­er­al­ly call­ing me stu­pid in pub­lic forums, say­ing nobody would ever want to cre­ate appli­ca­tions using Internet tech­nolo­gies; they’d want to keep using the tra­di­tion­al tele­phone com­pa­ny way of doing things. And when you get to today, it’s the only way peo­ple make these com­mu­ni­ca­tions appli­ca­tions. So that was a break­through in tech­nol­o­gy in being able to make it pos­si­ble, but also of basi­cal­ly con­vinc­ing the world that the open Internet way would actu­al­ly be bet­ter for them, not just bet­ter because well, it’s just open. 

On the pol­i­cy, side con­vinc­ing peo­ple and again the US gov­ern­ment in par­tic­u­lar to not try to impose half-understood, half-baked tech­ni­cal solu­tions to address pol­i­cy prob­lems. That you know, some things that would seem obvi­ous like block­ing a web site that might be feed­ing ille­gal con­tent, which sounds like a good idea, actu­al­ly has a lot of reper­cus­sions much much far­ther than that one lit­tle issue. And to be able to con­vince a diverse group of peo­ple in Congress to real­ize that yes, that was a bad idea and actu­al­ly see­ing a num­ber of those ini­tia­tives basi­cal­ly shelved. That was very… Yeah I would call that a breakthrough. 

Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weath­er anal­o­gy and explain why.

Burger: To put the weath­er in con­text I would say it’s iso­lat­ed thun­der­storms. It’s not sun­ny, it’s not total­ly stormy, but every now and then you get these thun­der­storms rolling through. And the real ques­tion is, are we head­ed towards clear skies, or are we look­ing at a cold front com­ing through it where becomes total­ly cloudy and rainy and cold and miserable. 

Intertitle: What are your great­est hopes and fears for the future of the Internet?

Burger: Now, in the storms…you know, we’ve had long-standing issues in some coun­tries with Internet free­dom. Countries like the Russian Federation, China, Iran, Syria. But now we have new storms com­ing, rev­e­la­tions about activ­i­ties going on in the United States, United Kingdom, and oth­er coun­tries. And this could blow over. Or it could become a real almost night­mare of gov­er­nance on the Internet, and per­son­al freedoms. 

There’s been a col­li­sion of lega­cy intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty mer­chants and the Internet econ­o­my. And we’ve seen this with things like SOPA and PIPA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and oth­er treaties—ACTA—that keep com­ing up. And again, some of the bat­tles have been won, some of the bat­tles are still ongoing…and you know, we real­ly kin­da need be active in how to address these issues. 

Cybersecurity, which is one of my day jobs, you know. There’s now a mix of espi­onage, cor­po­rate spy­ing, IP theft. But then that gets con­fused by issues like we need to pro­tect the chil­dren. Or we need to pro­tect our pop­u­lace from bad thoughts. Or we need to be able to detect the trai­tors among us. And this is all get­ting wrapped up in the rubric, the title of cyber­se­cu­ri­ty. And it makes it hard to address some very real issues of how to keep peo­ple’s data as their own. But with oth­er issues of again Internet free­dom. And it’s a very dif­fi­cult kin­da weath­er sys­tem to navigate. 

…because that was talk­ing about the storms…but you know, there are some sun­ny skies out there as well. You know, we’ve seen where there are com­pet­i­tive mar­kets for Internet access we’ve got faster access. We’ve got more avail­abil­i­ty, more reli­a­bil­i­ty, less expen­sive. And what this means is there are now more peo­ple on the Internet than there have ever been. And that num­ber is actu­al­ly still accel­er­at­ing. And in particular—particularly gratifying—is it’s accel­er­at­ing in more devel­op­ing coun­tries. The Internet is not just a thing for the rich com­pa­nies. It real­ly is chang­ing peo­ple’s lives all over the world. And as there’s more local access, we’re see­ing more local con­tent. We’re see­ing local equip­ment. People are build­ing their own solu­tions. They’re not depend­ing on man­u­fac­tur­ers in the United States, or man­u­fac­tures in Europe. And they’re com­ing up with local solu­tions, things that make sense for their envi­ron­ment and their economies.

Which in a sense proves the val­ue of the open Internet mod­el. That it real­ly does fos­ter inno­va­tion. It’s not a tech­nol­o­gy imposed from above. It real­ly is a tech­nol­o­gy devel­oped from the ground up, where you don’t need per­mis­sion to come up with a new appli­ca­tion or a new idea. And we hear a lot about sort of sim­ple tech­nolo­gies that enable new eco­nom­ic mod­els in the devel­op­ing world. And that would not come about if a whole bunch peo­ple in suits were sit­ting in Geneva or New York, or even Beijing, try­ing to think of What will we allow peo­ple to do.” With the Internet mod­el of just hav­ing an open Internet and you can just exper­i­ment, peo­ple quick­ly come up with very use­ful tech­nolo­gies, appli­ca­tions, that real­ly can change the world. 

Is there action that should be tak­en to ensure the best pos­si­ble future?

Burger: You know, this is part of why I’m moti­vat­ed to work in the Internet Society and the IETF and the oth­er your pol­i­cy forums is, we need to help pol­i­cymak­ers under­stand the prin­ci­ples of the Internet archi­tec­ture, the prin­ci­ples of an open Internet. We don’t expect them to be experts in the tech­nol­o­gy. But being ground­ed in the prin­ci­ples can help them make bet­ter pol­i­cy deci­sions. Because there are real issues of pol­i­cy that need to be addressed around the world. 

But it’s not just the pol­i­cy­mak­ers. The tech­nol­o­gists need to under­stand that there are real pol­i­cy issues out there. And to edu­cate them about these pol­i­cy issues so that we can come up, if appro­pri­ate, with tech­no­log­i­cal means to help address some of these pol­i­cy problems.

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