Geneva — In advance of the anticipated NETmundial conference on the future of Internet Governance, which will be organised by the Brazilian Government, stakeholders were encouraged to submit “Internet Governance principles” and share their views on the “further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem.”
At the end of the submission period, a total of 187 contributions were received, with 30% coming from civil society, 22% from business, 16% from academic institutions, 14% from technical organisations, 13% from Governments, and 5% from intergovernmental organisations. Here’s an overview of the main trends among the Government and business submissions.
With 14 submissions, Europe, including the European Union and the Council of Europe, is responsible for more than 60 percent of Government contributions. Given the interest in Latin American capitals in the Snowden revelations and the Montevideo Statement, it is remarkable that only two Governments from the region made a submission. Also, there is not a single submission from an African Government, suggesting that the region’s involvement in Internet issues continues to be a challenge.
What are countries’ views on the multistakehoder model? Given Brasil’s firm commitment to an inclusive, bottom-up governance model, it is perhaps no surprise that only two countries, Iran and China, explicitly call for the creation of a separate, multilateral body to deal with Internet Governance issues. Countries in pursuit of a Governments-only solution are more likely to come forward during the ITU Plenipotentiary in November or the planned WSIS follow-up summit in 2015.
Most countries expressed support for the key elements of the current governance structure, with more than a Third of the countries pointing to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a prime venues for international discussions. Also, roughly fifty percent of Governments (and a Third of all submissions) called for a full globalisation of ICANN/IANA, a request that was preempted by the NTIA’s surprise announcement that it will transition oversight over Internet domain name functions to the global multi-stakeholder community.
What were some of other general themes? A large number of Governments highlighted security-related issues, with about one in five submissions making (implicit) references to the surveillance revelations. A common theme among Western Governments was that human rights online have the same protections as they do in the offline world. Of course, it is debatable whether these issues actually fit within the scope of Internet Governance. More on that below.
Other noteworthy ideas included the ‘subsidiary principle’, put forward by the French Government, whereby issues are addressed by the smallest body capable of effective action. It’s an interesting concept to support the decentralized, bottom-up structure of the global Internet.
Mexico also made a sensible suggestion. “Where private mechanisms work”, the submission said, “they should be recognized and endorsed.” For example, one could imagine that Internet standard bodies like the IETF, the W3C or the IAB would be recognised through trade or other agreements.
Business provided the largest number of submissions behind civil society and was more geographically balanced than Governments overall. Out of the 39 business submissions, 28 percent came from global associations, 38 percent from the US, 25 percent from Europe, 22 percent from Latin America and 9 percent from Asia and Africa combined.
Not surprisingly, business expressed very strong support for the multistakeholder model. One out of four submissions highlighted the need for full internationalisation of ICANN/IANA to further strengthen its legitimacy. One out of five pointed to the IGF as a prime venue for international discussions.
Other common themes included the need to differentiate ‘public policy issues’, which need strong Government involvement, from the more technical functions as well as the need to ‘clarify the roles’ of existing Internet governance institutions. Those requests were reflected in about 25 percent of the submissions.
Other noteworthy or distinctive comments from the business community:
Deutsche Telekom favoured the idea of an “Internet of short distances” to decrease the ‘burdensome’ centralisation and prevent the ‘illegal collection of data.’
Mozilla introduced the idea of a separation between ‘consensus issues’ and ‘decision issues’. Where agreement is not possible, disputes resolution mechanism will be necessary.
Telecom Italia suggested a ‘variable geometry model’ to make Internet Governance more efficient. In that model, all stakeholders participate in the discussion but the implementation would be left to a limited set of accountable stakeholders.
The Cellular Operators of India (COIA) were critical of their own Government and noted that local businesses and civil society were opposed to their Government’s call for a “multilateral” model, “where governments, on an equal footing, may carry out their roles and responsibilities in international public policy issues.”
What’s the Scope of Internet Governance?
The extremely broad range of issues covered in the NETmundial submissions – from technical standards to spectrum allocation, ‘cyberbullying’, copyright and development – makes it clear that a shared understanding of what is, and what is not, within the scope of Internet governance, is needed. This is what the CCIA submission focused on.
Our paper suggests four principles that should help differentiate between ‘Internet governance’ issues and issues with an ‘Internet-dimension’:
The network and the data that network carries are in fact (and are to be treated as) entirely separate at the policy level;
No stakeholder may take measures that compromise the ability of the network to connect the greatest number of users at the lowest cost and as efficiently as possible;
The management of, and access to, data that traverses the network is not a subject of international Internet Governance; and,
Regulating the Internet, or technology more generally, will not solve social problems.
The key question, then, is how the existing Internet governance arrangements (e.g. ICANN, IGF, IETF) are to interact with other policy areas that have an Internet dimension. These include both areas that are fundamentally governed by national laws, i.e. the use of personally-identifiable information, and areas where international norms already exist, i.e. through human rights obligations.
Instead of creating additional, ‘Internet-specific’’ processes to address those areas, existing fora, which is where the expertise lies, need to embrace the Internet dimension of their issues. In our view, the IGF would be well placed to play a coordination function between existing policy fora and the Internet community. With regards to issues that are currently governed at the national level, the challenges are different. Here, the fundamental question is whether there is agreement that an international solution, or at least a international ‘conversation’, is needed.