Cerf calls Internet governance critical issue in high tech

Speaking at Google Atmosphere event, Cerf takes on governments, Net security

Vint Cerf, widely considered one of the fathers of the Internet, said Monday that Internet governance is one of the most critical issues in the high-tech world.

Cerf, speaking at the Google Atmosphere event in Palo Alto, Calif., said the Internet is a disruptive influence in most areas of people's lives and that it is making a lot of governments around the world nervous.

"I hope no one will forget the effects of the Arab Spring," Cerf told an audience. "There are governments that see the Internet as an important social element, business element, political element ... Governments have liked to think they were in control of these elements. And they feel less in control of the Internet because of its ubiquity and its lack of control."

And the threat of losing control, according to Cerf, means that some governments will try to extend their reach and grab back some of that control. He called it a dangerous situation to be faced with.

"Even our own government is beginning to go a tad overboard on intellectual property protection," Cerf added. "There are some big issues coming ... Remember governance is a very, very big word that includes law enforcement, human rights, business transactions. It touches everything, including the standards world and copyrights. That's why Internet governance is Topic A in many quarters."

Cerf also touched on security, saying people still ask him why he didn't help build more security into the Internet in the first place.

"It's because the technology was classified," said Cerf. "But this is 2011, and the technology is available to do a better job ... We are in a fairly hostile environment on the Net. We have serious work to do as a community to implement new technologies and adopt practices and standards that will improve the security of the Net."

He added that more encryption, digital signatures and two-factor authentication are needed.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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