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Considering the Users of Internet Standards

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This is an older version of an Internet-Draft whose latest revision state is "Replaced".
Author Mark Nottingham
Last updated 2015-08-07
Replaced by draft-iab-for-the-users, RFC 8890
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Network Working Group                                      M. Nottingham
Intended status: Best Current Practice                    August 7, 2015
Expires: February 8, 2016

              Considering the Users of Internet Standards


   Internet standards serve and are used by a variety of constituencies.
   This document contains guidelines for explicitly identifying those
   constituencies, serving them, and determining how to resolve
   conflicts between their interests, when necessary.

   It also mandates end users as the highest priority constituency for
   Internet standards.

Note to Readers

   The issues list for this draft can be found at .

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.  The list of current Internet-
   Drafts is at

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on February 8, 2016.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2015 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents

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   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.  Code Components extracted from this document must
   include Simplified BSD License text as described in Section 4.e of
   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as
   described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
     1.1.  Notational Conventions  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   2.  The Internet is for End Users . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   3.  Identifying the Constituents of Internet Standards  . . . . .   4
     3.1.  Handling Change in Constituencies . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     3.2.  Avoiding Unnecessary Constituents . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   4.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   5.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   6.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     6.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     6.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   Appendix A.  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8

1.  Introduction

   As the Internet has become prevalent in many societies, it has also
   unavoidably become a profoundly political thing; it has helped
   overthrow governments, revolutionize social orders, control
   populations and reveal people's secrets.  It has created wealth for
   some individuals and companies, while destroying others'.

   The IETF is most comfortable making purely technical decisions; our
   process is defined to favor technical merit, and our known bias
   towards "rough consensus and running code" is well suited to this
   area of work.

   Nevertheless, the running code that results from our process (when
   things work well) inevitably has an impact beyond technical
   considerations, because the underlying decisions afford some uses,
   while discouraging others.  Or, in the words of Lawrence Lessig

      Ours is the age of cyberspace.  It, too, has a regulator... This
      regulator is code -- the software and hardware that make
      cyberspace as it is.  This code, or architecture, sets the terms
      on which life in cyberspace is experienced.  It determines how
      easy it is to protect privacy, or how easy it is to censor speech.

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      It determines whether access to information is general or whether
      information is zoned.  It affects who sees what, or what is
      monitored.  In a host of ways that one cannot begin to see unless
      one begins to understand the nature of this code, the code of
      cyberspace regulates.

   All of this begs the question: Who do we go through the pain of rough
   consensus and write the running code for?

   There are a variety of identifiable constituents that Internet
   standards can provide benefit to, such as (but not limited to) end
   users, network operators, schools, equipment vendors, specification
   authors, specification implementers, content owners, governments,
   non-governmental organisations, social movements, employers, and

   Good specifications will provide benefit to all of the relevant
   constituencies, because standards do not represent a zero-sum game.
   However, on occasion we do need to balance the benefits of a protocol
   design decision between two (or more) constituents.

   Likewise, sometimes efforts are brought to the IETF that represent
   the technical needs of a specific constituency that does not take the
   needs of others into account.  On its own, such a specification meets
   a technical need for its community, but at the expense of others.
   When presented with such a proposal, we need to decide how to handle

   Currently, such decisions occur in an ad hoc fashion, often without
   explicitly being discussed.  This approach works reasonably well in
   many cases; even if a constituency is not directly represented in the
   process, there are often advocates for their interests, and
   ultimately protocols that disadvantage a particular constituency tend
   to be either rejected by it or eventually replaced.

   However, we do sometimes expend a considerable amount of energy
   mitigating potential harm to under-represented constituencies, and
   often harm to a constituency is not so onerous or obvious as to
   dissuade them from using something (e.g., [RFC6265]).

   Furthermore, the Internet is not a value-neutral space, as per the
   IETF's mission [RFC3935]:

      The IETF community wants the Internet to succeed because we
      believe that the existence of the Internet, and its influence on
      economics, communication, and education, will help us to build a
      better human society.

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   To better define the criteria that we use to make such decisions when
   necessary, document them, minimize potential harm, and to help
   fulfill the mission of the IETF, this document outlines a set of
   guidelines about how the constituents of Internet standards should be
   identified, and when necessary, balanced.

1.1.  Notational Conventions

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

2.  The Internet is for End Users

   Internet standards MUST prioritize end users higher than any other
   constituents.  While networks need to be managed, employers and
   equipment vendors need to meet business goals, etc., our mission is
   to "build a better human society" [RFC3935] and - on the Internet -
   society is composed of what we call "end users."

   Furthermore, the success of the Internet to date is arguably due
   largely to its bias towards end user concerns; without a firm
   preference for their benefit, trust in the Internet will erode, and
   its value - for all constituents - will be greatly diminished.

   This does not mean that end users have ultimate priority; there may
   be cases where genuine technical need of another constituent requires
   that end user requirements compromise.  However, such tradeoffs need
   to be carefully examined, and avoided when there are alternate means
   of achieving the desired goals.  If they cannot be, these choices and
   reasoning should be carefully documented.

   For example, IPv6 [RFC2460] identifies each client with a unique
   address - even though this provides a way to track end user activity
   and helps identify them - because it is technically necessary to
   provide networking (and despite this, there are mechanisms like
   [RFC4941] to mitigate this effect, for those users who desire it).

3.  Identifying the Constituents of Internet Standards

   Internet standards MUST document relevant primary constituents and
   their interrelationships.

   For example, HTML does so using the priority of constituencies in the
   HTML Design Principles [PRIORITY]:

      In case of conflict, consider users over authors over implementors
      over specifiers over theoretical purity.  In other words costs or

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      difficulties to the user should be given more weight than costs to
      authors; which in turn should be given more weight than costs to
      implementors; which should be given more weight than costs to
      authors of the spec itself, which should be given more weight than
      those proposing changes for theoretical reasons alone.  Of course,
      it is preferred to make things better for multiple constituencies
      at once.

   Note how the relative priority of constituents is explicit; this is
   intentional and encouraged.  However, it need not be a strict ranking
   in all cases; in some areas, it can be more useful to give equal
   weight to constituencies, so as to encourage the tussle [TUSSLE].

   Likewise, the responsibilities of, or expectations upon, constituents
   can vary greatly.  For example, end users of Web browsers cannot be
   reasonably expected to make informed decisions about security, and
   therefore design decisions there are biased towards default security.
   When applicable, the expectations upon a constituency SHOULD be

   Extensions to existing standards MUST document how they interact with
   the extended standard's constituents.  If the extended standard's
   constituents are not yet documented, the extension MAY estimate its
   impact, in coordination with that standard's community and the IESG.

   The burden of this documentation need not be high; if HTML can do it
   in a paragraph, so can most standards.  While it might be appropriate
   in a separate document (e.g., a requirements or use cases draft) or
   the specification itself, documenting constituents in the WG charter
   has considerable benefits, since it clarifies their relationships up-

   Inevitably, documenting and interpreting the constituent roles will
   become controversial; this is to be expected, and is still preferable
   to avoiding the discussion.  The point is to make it explicit, so
   that the effected constituencies can be made aware of the discussion,
   and judge the outcome.

3.1.  Handling Change in Constituencies

   Changes in the use, deployment patterns, legal context, or other
   factors of a standard can bring pressure to re-balance the priorities
   of existing constituents, or insert new ones (usually, when a
   standard is either extended or evolved).

   Such changes MUST NOT violate the priority of existing constituents,
   or those reasonably assumed by existing constituents, without
   informed consent.  Note that this may preclude the change completely,

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   as it is often impossible to gain the informed consent of a large or
   diffuse group of constituents (e.g., end users).

   For example, there has been increasing pressure to change HTTP
   [RFC7230] to make it more amenable to optimization, filtering, and
   interposition of other value-added services, especially in the face
   of more pervasive encryption (denoted by HTTPS URIs).  However, since
   HTTPS is already defined as a two-party protocol with end-to-end
   encryption, inserting a third party in any fashion would violate the
   expectations of two existing constituents; end users and content
   publishers.  Therefore, the HTTP Working Group has refused to
   consider such changes.

3.2.  Avoiding Unnecessary Constituents

   In protocol design, intermediation is often thought of as "those
   parties on the direct path between two people attempting to
   communicate"; e.g., middleboxes, proxies and so on.

   When discussing constituencies, this definition can be expanded to
   include those parties that have the ability to prevent or control
   communication between two parties.  This naturally includes
   middleboxes, but can also include third parties not directly on-path.

   For example, HTTP has on-path intermediaries (proxies, gateways,
   etc.), but also off-path intermediaries, in the form of the DNS
   registrar, the DNS server, and also the Certificate Authority if TLS
   is in use.  Certificate Transparency [RFC6962] potentially adds yet
   another intermediary to this protocol suite.

   While there might be a good technical reason to interpose such an
   intermediary, it also introduces a new constituent, and thus needs to
   be done with due consideration of the impact on other constituents.

   Therefore, unnecessary constituents SHOULD be avoided when possible
   in Internet standards.

4.  IANA Considerations

   This document does not require action by IANA.

5.  Security Considerations

   This document does not have direct security impact; however, applying
   its guidelines (or failing to) might affect security positively or
   negatively for various constituents.

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6.  References

6.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/
              RFC2119, March 1997,

6.2.  Informative References

   [CODELAW]  Lessig, L., "Code Is Law: On Liberty in Cyberspace", 2000,

              van Kesteren, A. and M. Stachowiak, "HTML Design
              Principles", November 2007, <

   [RFC2460]  Deering, S. and R. Hinden, "Internet Protocol, Version 6
              (IPv6) Specification", RFC 2460, DOI 10.17487/RFC2460,
              December 1998, <>.

   [RFC3935]  Alvestrand, H., "A Mission Statement for the IETF", BCP
              95, RFC 3935, DOI 10.17487/RFC3935, October 2004,

   [RFC4941]  Narten, T., Draves, R., and S. Krishnan, "Privacy
              Extensions for Stateless Address Autoconfiguration in
              IPv6", RFC 4941, DOI 10.17487/RFC4941, September 2007,

   [RFC6265]  Barth, A., "HTTP State Management Mechanism", RFC 6265,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC6265, April 2011,

   [RFC6962]  Laurie, B., Langley, A., and E. Kasper, "Certificate
              Transparency", RFC 6962, DOI 10.17487/RFC6962, June 2013,

   [RFC7230]  Fielding, R., Ed. and J. Reschke, Ed., "Hypertext Transfer
              Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Message Syntax and Routing", RFC
              7230, DOI 10.17487/RFC7230, June 2014,

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   [TUSSLE]   Clark, D., Sollins, K., Wroclawski, J., and R. Braden,
              "Tussle in Cyberspace: Defining Tomorrow's Internet",

Appendix A.  Acknowledgements

   Thanks to Jacob Appelbaum for making the suggestion that led to this

   Thanks also to the WHATWG for blazing the trail.

   Thanks to Edward Snowden for his comments regarding the priority of
   end users at IETF93.

   Thanks to Harald Alvestrand for his substantial feedback and Joe
   Hildebrand, Niels ten Oever, and Martin Thomson for their

Author's Address

   Mark Nottingham


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