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.