As the RIPE NCC manages its compliance with relevant sanctions, we are also looking at how to ensure that sanctions don't jeopardise the global Internet.
In recent years, the RIPE NCC has been very publicly managing the challenge of complying with EU sanctions while fulfilling our remit as the Internet number registry for our service region. These EU sanctions, levied primarily against individuals and legal entities in Syria, Iran and Russia, have resulted in the RIPE NCC freezing the accounts of a small number of members, but they have also consumed significant organisational resources as we work to ensure full compliance with the law. Our Chief Legal Officer, Athina Fragkouli, provided details in presentations and in past RIPE Labs articles, and our Managing Director has reported on these issues at recent RIPE Meetings and RIPE NCC events.
Compliance with the current laws is of critical importance to the RIPE NCC and that means that much of our focus is naturally on ensuring this compliance. However, it is clear that the laws as they currently stand pose fundamental challenges to the global, multistakeholder approach to Internet resource management (including the Internet registry system). Therefore, we are also looking at how we can work with public policymakers to evolve laws and regulations to better align with and accommodate the global management of Internet resources.
Laws change slowly, especially when you are dealing with multiple layers of authority (in this case, the Dutch government, which enforces sanctions regulations in the Netherlands - our jurisdiction - and the European Union, which defines the EU sanctions regulations), so this is not a project that we expect to have immediate, or even short-term, outcomes. However, there are opportunities, working with a range of stakeholders, to develop understanding and to look creatively at how public policy and Internet governance processes intersect now and in the future.
Assessing the impact
As an initial step, the RIPE NCC is funding an independent research project being undertaken by Digital Medusa, led by Dr Farzaneh Badiei. The goal of this project is to document and analyse the impact of sanctions on core Internet functions (such as management of the Internet Number Registry system) and other Internet operations, and to identify possible solutions or remedies. Dr Badiei is an Iranian researcher (currently based in the US) with a history of study and analysis of sanctions and their impact on the Internet. She has also participated in RIPE Meetings as part of the RACI program, acted as a Subject Matter Expert in EuroDIG, and served as Chair of the Noncommercial Stakeholders Group at ICANN.
Over the coming months, Dr Badiei and her team will speak with a range of stakeholders. We hope that this phase will include a BoF at the RIPE 85 Meeting in Belgrade, which will provide the RIPE community with an opportunity to share insights and experiences regarding the impact of sanctions on Internet operations. Their work will also feed into a workshop at the 2022 Internet Governance Forum (taking place on-line and in Addis Ababa at the end of November), which will include speakers from a range of stakeholder groups, including governments.
The output of this research project will be of value in itself, but it will also contribute to a strong basis for further discussion and engagement. By informing all stakeholders (especially government) of the impacts - usually unintended - that sanctions can have on Internet functions and operations, we hope to build a broader, stronger consensus on the need to address these issues.
What might a solution look like? The goal of the IGF workshop is to establish a multistakeholder dialogue that could agree on and document some clear guidelines or principles that governments could adhere to when developing sanctions regulations. This would obviously be a voluntary arrangement, but it reflects a belief that disruption of the global Internet is not a deliberate outcome of sanctions. While lawmakers generally try to ensure that sanctions are targeted, there can still be unintentional impacts arising from those sanctions - our hope is that, with adequate information and context, lawmakers themselves will act to prevent this.
In the longer term, it may also be useful to look toward the increasingly active global Internet governance space, particularly in the United Nations, where discussions in venues like the Open-Ended Working Group on cybersecurity are negotiating governmental approaches and commitments in relation to Internet governance. While global geopolitical tensions are currently running high, a broad willingness to avoid jeopardising the fundamental foundations of a global network of networks is hopefully not out of reach.
Digital Medusa and the RIPE NCC will be engaging regularly with the RIPE community in the coming months, and we hope that the input from operators, RIPE NCC members and others in the community will help ensure that our work in this space is comprehensive, clear and effective.