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Proposed response to meeting venue consultations and the complex issues raised
- Jay DaleyIETF Executive Director
21 Aug 2023
The IETF Administration LLC recently sought feedback from the community on the possibility of holding an IETF Meeting in the cities of Beijing, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur and Shenzhen. The feedback received, both publicly and privately, included views that were well expressed and well argued but were strongly conflicting. The IETF LLC has considered this feedback in-depth and now seeks community feedback on its proposed response.
Summary of the key feedback
Entry into a country for an IETF Meeting
In feedback to the recent consultation on venue assessment reports for Beijing, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur and Shenzhen, multiple reasons were given for why people consider some countries as unsuitable for an IETF meeting.
There are those who are, quite understandably, frustrated and upset that their nation is discriminated against, either explicitly by an entry ban, or implicitly by an excessively long and/or arbitrary visa process, and consider any destination country where this happens as unsuitable for a meeting.
Separately, there are those subject to corporate travel restrictions, who argue that these are rational responses to the conditions within the destination country, and that if these restrictions impact a sufficiently large number of people, then they should be considered disqualifiers for that destination country.
The issue of home country advisories, such as the US State Dept travel advisories, is divisive with some considering them objective, proportionate and trustworthy advice, while others consider them politically motivated, exaggerations of minor issues and untrustworthy. Again, there are those that argue that if home country advisories impact a sufficiently large number of people, they should be considered disqualifiers for a destination country
The current venue assessment process considers restrictions imposed by the destination country and advisories from the home country of participants, but does not consider corporate travel restrictions. Destination country restrictions are considered a disqualifier for that country if they are likely to impact more than 20% of potential onsite participants, using historical data of onsite participation. Source country advisories are limited to US State Dept travel advisories because the IETF LLC is a US corporation and needs to carefully consider its legal position as such.
There is a strong disconnect between the conditions that some have experienced personally in a particular city, and the researched assessment of those conditions at a country-wide level. This is particularly acute around the personal demographics of gender, sexual orientation and religion.
The current venue assessment process uses indices published by independent bodies who assess conditions in all countries using the same assessment methodology. It is recognised that this approach does not always reflect the conditions in a specific city and so there is the option for local exceptions to be applied. However, this exception process has no clear structure around it.
Security of devices
A number of participants have raised strong concerns for the security of their devices when visiting certain countries (more than one country was referenced). The specific threats identified include being forced to hand over passwords at the border and having spyware secretly installed on devices by state actors. Other participants consider these to be unsubstantiated or disproportionate concerns, while others consider these are sufficiently widespread to be a risk with any country.
The current venue assessment process does not consider these concerns.
Resolving these issues
Current policy and implementation
RFC 8718 (BCP 226), which sets out the community policy for the selection of meeting venues, has multiple levels of guidance for the IETF Administration LLC, including core values, explicit non-objectives, mandatory criteria and important criteria. The core value most relevant here is “Inclusiveness”:
We would like to facilitate the on-site or remote participation of anyone who wants to be involved. Widespread participation contributes to the diversity of perspectives represented in the working sessions.
Every country has limits on who it will permit within its borders. However, the IETF seeks to:
Minimize situations in which onerous entry regulations inhibit, discourage, or prevent participants from attending meetings; failing that, meeting locations are to be distributed such that onerous entry regulations are not always experienced by the same attendees; and
Avoid meeting in countries with laws that effectively exclude people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, or gender identity.
There are also two relevant explicit non-objectives, “Politics” and “Maximal attendance”:
Endorsing or condemning particular countries, political paradigms, laws, regulations, or policies.
While the IETF strives to be as inclusive as possible, both online and in person, maximal meeting attendance in and of itself is not a goal. It would defeat a key goal of meeting if active contributors with differing points of view did not have the opportunity to resolve their disagreements, no matter how full the rooms.
The IETF LLC notes that it is inherently impossible to resolve the objective of
“Avoid meeting in countries with laws that …” and the explicit non-objective of
“Endorsing or condemning particular countries, political paradigms, laws, regulations, or policies.”
The current venue selection process uses an assessment of each country against well defined criteria based on the guidance in RFC 8718. However, this process cannot resolve the conflicting views summarized above and will likely see the IETF not meeting in multiple countries that have an active community of IETF participants.
While the IETF LLC fully recognizes that the concerns expressed about travel to some countries are well founded, after much consideration, it does not believe that acting on these concerns and excluding so many countries with active communities of IETF participants is appropriate or what the community overall wants.
Proposed way forward
The IETF LLC has investigated the possibility of meeting in a fixed set of countries, however small, that satisfy the criteria of BCP 226 and are acceptable/open to a very high percentage of IETF participants, so as to minimize the number of people who are prevented from onsite participation. However, investigation into potential candidate countries shows that this is not feasible.
Consequently, the IETF LLC proposes to change the way it selects meeting venues in order to maximize the number of potential countries that the IETF can meet in, while still complying with BCP 226 (both RFC 8718 and RFC 8719).
This proposed change will not affect how the meeting space and hotels are chosen, those will continue to comply with the mandatory criteria and the important criteria, following the guidance set in RFC 8718.
When considering the country/city the IETF might meet in, the proposed new process will now only assess the following:
- Discrimination on entry:
- A proposed country will be considered unsuitable for an IETF meeting if it has discriminatory entry rules/processes on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
- A proposed country will not be considered unsuitable for an IETF meeting if it has discriminatory entry rules/processes on the basis of national origin or citizenship, but the overall selection of venues will comply with the guidance
“meeting locations are to be distributed such that onerous entry regulations are not always experienced by the same attendees”.
- Safety of participants in the chosen city:
- A proposed city will be considered unsuitable for an IETF meeting if there is a level of discrimination against people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, such that it is not considered safe. This will be assessed using, as much as possible, the lived experience of IETF participants and not external assessments.
- Any city considered unsafe for any reason, such as infectious diseases, war or violent demonstrations, will be deemed unsuitable.
- Viability for the IETF LLC. This will include
- Sufficient staffing
- Appropriate insurances
- Financial viability.
- Explicitly confirming with the IESG that the core objective from RFC 8718 of “Why we meet” will be met:
"We meet to pursue the IETF's mission [RFC 3935]. This is partly done by advancing the development of Internet-Drafts and RFCs. We also seek to facilitate attendee participation in multiple topics and to enable cross-pollination of ideas and technologies."
For the avoidance of doubt, a proposed destination country will not be considered unsuitable due to home country travel advisories, corporate travel restrictions or concerns about the security of devices.
The IETF LLC fully recognizes that the impact of this change will be that IETF meetings will, on occasion, be held in countries/cities that a sizable number of regular IETF participants will not be able or not willing, to visit. However, it considers that this is both compliant with BCP 226 and to the broader benefit of the IETF.
The IETF LLC also recognizes that this may in turn impact the nature of these meetings, but considers that this is addressed by the explicit confirmation of the IESG that the meeting will address the core objective of “Why we meet”.
Request for feedback
The IETF LLC now requests community feedback on this proposed change to the venue selection process for IETF meetings. Feedback should be sent to the public mailing list email@example.com or direct to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.