Excerpts From The IIA's 'Principles For A Digital Economy'

Yesterday, the Internet Industry Association released their manifesto on internet policy and regulation, entitled "Principles for a Digital Economy". It's a 51-page document full of fascinating arguments about technology policy making.

The document covers everything from the roll-out of the NBN, online security, copyright reform, cybersafety and data retention. While you should definitely read the entire thing if you get the chance (download the PDF here), here are some of the choice excerpts:

On the NBN:

In 21st Century Australia, social inclusion, democratic participation and regional engagement will all depend on the universal availability of superfast broadband services.

We therefore reiterate our support for the unprecedented funding commitment by the current Government to deliver a near-ubiquitous open access national fibre-to-the-premises network with ‘equivalent service for all access seekers’

Without public investment, Australia faces a two tier internet future. The ‘haves’ will live in population areas where commercial investment in fibre is warranted and where good, infrastructure-based competition exists.

The ‘have-nots’ will live in areas where there are high barriers to entry, no contestible market and little incentive to offer what we might call “metro grade” access services.

Wireless delivery will continue to play a crucially important role and one that must be supported,8 but we are concerned that the pressures on radiofrequency spectrum (particularly in light of the exponential growth in demand for mobile broadband services) will mean we cannot rely on wireless delivery to carry the main load. For its part, satellite will also provide a complementary role but is subject to latency (lag) issues not faced by either wireless or fibre. This will impact on its capacity to deliver real time interactive services like videoconferencing.

On Cybercrime:

While the internet as a technology platform is neither inherently safe nor inherently dangerous, the inevitable consequence of the internet becoming mainstream and gaining value has regrettably seen the entry of an international digital ‘underbelly’ seeking to profit from illegal activities online.

The challenge in managing the growing problem is compounded by the sheer velocity of technological change, the limitations of outdated regulatory frameworks and the lack of coordination across jurisdictions. Industry, intra-industry competitors, regulators, enforcement agencies and educators must all work together to protect our evolving internet ecosystem if we are to promote a safer, fairer, faster more trusted internet for Australia.

On Copyright:

Unquestionably, large scale, deliberate, profit oriented piracy operations ought face strong legal sanctions. Criminal laws exist for this purpose. However, the acts of individuals in their private homes requires a more considered approach addressing the underlying drivers of inappropriate behaviour and the capacity of any law to effectively modify such behaviour without fundamentally challenging innovation, the reasonable needs of a digital culture and the right to privacy and due process.

To the extent that internet users, mainly the young, engage in infringing activities, we suggest the causes may be rooted in market failure more than they are in any regulatory shortfall. After all, Australia has some of the strongest copyright laws in the world. Until the underlying drivers are addressed, strengthening laws may struggle to arrest the problem and risk driving it underground. There are a number of dimensions to the apparent market failure. The first is the lack of trusted and easily accessible payment systems particularly for small value transactions where the traditional methods of payments eg. credit cards are either not accessible, used with trepidation, or cannot support small value transactions. Accepted ‘micropayment’ mechanisms for specific content items have yet to evolve to the point of ubiquity. A second is that region based licensing of sought after content make the provision of authorised content problematic. The complexities of region based licensing is one reason Australian content industries have been slow to adapt to new models such as we have seen overseas.

Legislation and litigation in our view are poor substitutes for innovation and meeting changing attitudes to consumption across entire generations. While we maintain that effective and workable copyright laws are essential, their application must be proportionate and properly targeted. To do otherwise risks generating attitudes of disrespect for the law across the emerging internet generation.

On Cybersafety:

As demonstrated by our work in this area, the IIA supports the use of optional filters to help protect children from unwanted or inappropriate material. The Family Friendly Filter scheme evidences the range of products offered by security vendors. These products and services can be tailored for homes and schools as needed. However, while many families and schools find filters useful, they are not to be seen as a substitute for parental guidance or well- founded education programs. We support the further finding by OSTWG that while content filters have their place, they are no substitute for the lifelong protection provided by critical thinking. The best “filter” is not the one that runs on a device but the “software” that runs in our heads.”

On Data Retention:

Transactional data generated by internet activity, should that be the subject of the requirement, is by its nature voluminous. Any model that extends to the facility of capturing and storing data across the entire population would require careful consideration of the scope for its misuse. The security that would be needed to surround stored data is likely to be significant; we note that relevant Australian and international standards may require extensive measures to ensure that what is accessible easily to satisfy law enforcement agency requests is not also accessible to non authorised parties.

Even if privacy and security (not to mention technical and cost) considerations, were resolvable, it is not clear how law enforcement agencies might benefit from the volume of data subject to retention – arguably without a stepwise increase in analytical and interpretive capability, increasing the volume of data to the extent envisaged could actually impact adversely on finding that information which is actually relevant to an investigation.

These are just a small sample of the points made in the document. IIA chief executive Peter Coroneos has announced that the IIA will "be requesting political parties to respond to its recommendations over the coming weeks". With the election in full swing at the moment and online reform fairly low on the agenda of the nation's politicians, it's unlikely we'll hear any significant responses until after August 21. But hopefully this manifesto can help drive Australia in the right direction when it comes to online policy creation.

[IIA]