Experiment Ethics and Privacy

A key aspect of the IETF is running code, and we often apply our technology in our meetings, or run experiments to determine how well something works or gather information about networks.

Prior to IETF-93 we had some discussion of specific experiments and whether those experiments, while technically interesting, were allowable in the location that we were at. At the time there was too little time to determine a proper answer for that. Since then the IESG and IAOC have discussed what to do about this topic in general.

The legal frameworks in various countries can in some cases be suboptimal, but it is the environment that we must operate in. We are planning to set up a small team to look at experiment proposals and to determine if they have issues that are likely to require closer evaluation. The charter for the team is at the end of this message.

Would this team be useful from your perspective? Comments appreciated.

IETF Experiment Ethics Review Board

The purpose of the IETF Experiment Ethics Review Board (EERB) is to consider whether or not proposed experiments or studies using the IETF  meeting network are acceptable. The EERB advises the IETF chair in the approval of proposed meeting experiments.

Composition of the EERB

The EERB will consist of members selected by the IETF chair. The members will include at least one member of the NOC team and at least one member of the IESG, IAOC, or IAB. The EERB members as a whole should include members familiar with research ethical review panels from different geographical regions, as legislation, custom and practice differ significantly in different places. The IETF chair may appoint additional members as desired. Members must recuse themselves from the EERB if involved in, or closely connected to, a study being considered.

When is approval from the EERB needed?

Ethical approval is required before any studies involving human participants and the IETF meeting network can commence. It is important that researchers contemplating experiments take into account the provisions of legislation relevant for the location of the experiment.

The purpose of the EERB is to determine if there are potential ethics or privacy issues. If after careful evaluation the board finds that there are no issues that would cause concern, then the EERB will indicate that they have no objection to the experiment from their perspective. If there are some potential issues, the role of the EERB (at least in its initial form) is only to ensure that an approval obtained from another research ethics body (e.g. an university IRB) exists – evidence of same can be submitted prior to the commencement of the study (see procedures below). The EERB can review this external approval and base its decision solely thereon.

In the absence of an external approval, the EERB will not be able to provide  an approval by itself, but given its composition, it may potentially provide  useful advice to the applicant and the research institutions involved, which  may in turn lead the approval later on.

In some special cases, the EERB may also in addition determine that IETF  legal counsel or other legal help may be required confirm that there is no  significant risk to the IETF. The IAOC is prepared support the EERB in these situations. The board is not intended to give legal advice to researchers proposing an experiment, however. The responsibility for legal compliance rests on the researchers.


To contact the EERB send email to eerb@ietf.org *. When informed of a planned study, the EERB must provide an initial response within one week. The goal of the initial response is to assist the researchers in submitting an application, if one is needed. Once an application has been submitted, the EERB will consider each application and normally provide a response within two weeks but not more than one month later. It therefore makes sense to start early, in particular if targetting a specific IETF meeting.

The IETF chair will check with the EERB on all proposed experiments for an upcoming IETF meeting, and an EERB recommendation is a prerequisite for the approval of an experiment during an IETF or in the IETF network.

EERB Application Form

The EERB is responsible for deciding what information is required to be submitted in an application. The latest version of the application form and instructions will be maintained at http://www.ietf.org/experiment-ethics-review-board *.

Jari Arkko, IETF Chair

(*) Links and e-mail addresses are not yet active.