Communications and Society Program

Aspen Institute Internet Policy Project

The goal of the Internet Policy Project is to address significant practical and policy issues affecting the use and operation of the Internet, and its implications for the public good.

The early work of the Institute's Internet Policy Project focused on issues raised by the implementation of The Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, released in July 1997. The Project sponsored a series of small group meetings and workshops to discuss privacy, the privatization of the domain name system, the impact of the Internet on intellectual property rules, jurisdiction in cyberspace, the legal nature of e-commerce transactions, and the applicability of self-regulation and self-ordering for the resolution of Internet-related issues. These meetings resulted in significant contributions to the development of new approaches to Internet governance and online privacy. The Project was a focal point for discussions involving the implications for policy-making of new insights that have developed regarding the evolution of complex systems.

The Project, in line with its historical interest in the applicability of self-regulation and self-ordering, is now turning to examine the role of the risk-management sector -- insurance companies, accounting firms etc.-- in establishing market mechanisms to promote improved security, reliability, and privacy protection on the Internet.

The Accountable Net framework was created during the December 2003 Aspen Institute Internet Policy Project roundtable discussions by addressing complex network issues (i.e. spam, network security, and identity management), with participation from government, academia, and industry. It was felt that an independent organization would provide focus, continuity and a trusted forum to discuss, analyze, debate and broker cooperative approaches as we work to address current and emerging network issues. The Accountable Net's mission is to foster peer-to-peer accountability on the Internet on the basis of community-based best practices, rule-making, and enforcement approaches, which respect individual rights, foster the free flow of communication, and evolve with technical, legal and social structures in the networked world.

The 2003 roundtables explored the opportunities and challenges involved in establishing market-based approaches in three vital areas of interest and economic growth in electronic communications: systems for e-mail and messaging, network security, and global user identity. The Internet Policy Project took place the week of December 8-12th, 2003 in Aspen, Colorado. The Project was divided into three forums--Spam, Global User Identity and Network Security. The final days culmination in identifying the theme of the conference, The Accountable Net, was particularly gratifying. It placed all of the preparatory materials and conference dialogue in the proper context the use of various tools and actions to create a system of accountability on the Net for reliability, authenticity, and security, among other values. A report of the conference will be available in the spring of 2004.

Rethinking Boundaries in Cyberspace

In 2001, the Internet Policy Project focused on the next generation of Internet policy questions as governments attempt to assert control over Internet conduct and content within and beyond their own borders. The Project also explored how changes in information and communications technology, particularly the development of peer-to-peer and pervasive computing, raises new questions about how to protect and promote key societal values such as privacy, security, and the development and dissemination of intellectual property.

The Project convened twenty-four conference leading entrepreneurs, technologists, academics executives, and policy advisors in Aspen, Colorado to discuss the challenges posed by the intersection of governance and technology on the Internet. The discussion focused on four interrelated questions.

  • What characteristics make the Internet a novel and genuinely disruptive technology, and conversely, what characteristics make it similar to other technologies that came before?
  • Under what circumstances, if any, are governments justified in seeking to impose the requirements of local laws on Internet users and service providers beyond their borders?
  • What norms and values should guide governance decisions on the Internet more generally, and how should such governance decisions best be made?
  • How will the answers to the foregoing questions be affected by new technological developments, such as the emergence of peer-to-peer computing?

Rethinking Boundaries in Cyberspace, the report of 2001 conference, written by Erez Kalir and Elliot E. Maxwell, addresses difficult questions surrounding a state's control over the relationships among its citizens, citizens of other countries, and the Internet. The publication is a synthesis of three days of conversations among leading technologists, entrepreneurs, academicians, and policy makers looking at current trends in which states are seeking to extend their jurisdiction in cyberspace. It also addresses the impact of the rise in "private governance" on the growth and development of the Internet. Given the global nature of the Internet, who will make the rules governing these and other issues, and what values will underlie these rules? Will rules be made by local, national, or international authorities, by governmental bodies or by private-sector actors? Download Report in PDF.

The 1999 Internet Policy Project plenary session was held July 25-28, 1999 in Aspen, Colorado. The meeting was focused on the role of self-regulation, particularly as applied to Internet privacy and Internet content control issues, the emergence of the new domain name system, and the prospects for broadband development, including the impact of open access to broadband systems.