Definitions of Internet Governance. Principles and Values.
Internet presents a complex ecosystem of governance that has to deal not only with technical protocols, physical infrastructures and political goals, but also with social values and multiple interests, such as economic efficiency and cultural diversity. In order to understand this whole complex world, let's start with two definitions of what Internet Governance is.
“Internet governance used to refer to a vital but relatively narrow set of policy issues related to the global coordination of Internet domain names and addresses.” (Mueller, 2002)
“Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet. ” (Working Group on Internet Governance 2005)
As De Nardis (2014) underlines “Internet governance is about governance, not governments.” For politic scientists, talking about governance instead of government means underlining the preference for a bottom-up creation and application of power by all the stakeholders of the community, in spite of the traditional verticalisation of governmental hierarchies. It implies not only a specific procedural choice related with democratic, transparent and accountable agenda-setting and decision-making processes, but also the strong commitment with certain values, which can be systemic values (Baran's survivable network architecture, Postel's law of robustness, openness, the end-to-end principle), political values (multistakeholderism, net-neutrality, raft consensus) and social values (individual liberties, privacy, innovation, intellectual property rights, free market, etc.).

 


The overall design of the infrastructure and dynamics of cyberspace in general and Internet in particular can be seeing as a political decision. The way Internet has been structured and works reflects specific forms of power and authority: globally unique, open, multistakeholderist but centralized, net-neutral and raft consensual. All these characteristics leads to a particular political ideal, related with globalization, democratic system and free market capitalism. So we cannot dismiss any of these three pillars of values in order to maintain the performance of the entire cyberspace.

 

The System.
The system ensures stable and secure flow of information through universal and consistent technical standards, with inestimable economic, financial, social and political value.
Internet was originally conceived by engineers and not by political scientists, and the first aim was to communicate in the most open and easy way with an overall logic of the free flow of information (“everything has to be available to everyone by the easiest way and with lesser cost”). In order to achieve this aim they have, firstly, established the standards for how computing devices interoperate, then they proceeded with the coordination of the distribution of the internet addresses. At that point, they had to determine the values for the further development of the entire system, solving also the problems related with cybersecurity.
This free flow of information produces a social revolution in human history, destabilizing the traditionally dominant institutions of power and information due to several innovations: file sharing, low costs of duplication/storage/distribution of information, loss of information control of citizen-production of news and entertainment.
However, all these benefits are, in many cases, limited by different methods of control, blocking, filtering, surveillance, censorship, misinformation, piracy and hacking. These are inherent risks of the system and are committed by all actors with different interests and in different levels.

 

The Actors.
Internet governance is coordinated by a constellation of public authorities, transnational institutions, private corporations, nongovernmental entities and a global epistemic community of engineers/technicians/officers devoted to the development of internet. So we have not only governments battling for their own national interests but also a lot of intermediaries and advocacy groups involved in its political dynamics.
The intermediaries are numerous:
- financial services companies that facilitated online monetary transactions;
- web hosting companies that house other entities content on their servers;
- search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.)
- registrars that assign domain names to Internet users,
- registries that perform domain name resolution processes;
- entities that run Internet exchange points connecting networks;
- institutions that operate the Internet's routing and addressing infrastructure.

 

Some very recognized Advocacy groups are the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF), the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Public Knowledge.
Multinational corporations have a de facto global policymaking function, stressing the “corporate social responsibility” and advocating for the respect of privacy, freedom of expression and transparency against governmental requests related to the speech or privacy rights of their users.
Notwithstanding this "fair" attittude of MNCs, they are accused of implementing the policy of “trading privacy for free private goods” to commercialize personal data. In most cases, these intermediaries have more expertise dealing with digital information than public officers. And so governments could also be tempted to privatize internet surveillance, censorship, blocking and data collection up to these intermediaries in order to skip constitutional limitations.

 

The Current International Political Struggle to reshape Internet Governance.

Despite the openness, the multistakeholderist and decentralized regulation of Internet, it remains under central regulation of the US. In fact, the ICANN, notwithstanding being a not-for-profit public-benefit technical corporation under the laws of California, is contractually engaged with the US Department of Commerce.

Nowadays, in particular after the Snowden Affair in 2013, the Internet Governance is discussed among three main blocks of actors with multiple interests:

1.- The "5 Eyes" Group (the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand): these are the status-quo actors who wants to maintain the actual regime open and free from interference by States.

2.- The BRICS States (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa): they criticise the actual structure arguing it serves as an instrument of techno-political domination by the "5 Eyes". They want to change the status quo, but in different ways and for different interests. In fact, within this group, there is a strong cleavage between the "Censors" (China, Russia and other authoritarian regimes) and the "Moderate Reformers" also called the "Swing States" (India, Brazil and all LatAm countries, South Africa). While the moderates' strategy is to change the system from within (i.e. the Brazilian government committment to create a set of principles of internet governance during the NetMundial conference in Sao Paulo in April 2014), other countries (especially Russia) prefer to increase the decisional power of other intergovernmental forums outside the typical ICANN/IANA environment, such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) or within the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee -the most multilateral organ of the entire governance system.

3.- The EU: supports the actual multistakeholder model but with more regional/national regulation to protect citizens' rights, domestic industries and national and communitarian interests, in particular in issues like Big Data, Net-Neutrality and State Surveillance.

In March 2014, the US Department of Commerce announced the expiration of the contract with ICANN/IANA on 30 September 2015, opening a new phase of global negotiations in order to create a more multistakeholder governance, but maintaining the respect for openness, free access and no multilateral regulation of IANA. In so doing, this process will lead to a reshape of the entire system by improving the transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of the multistakeholder processes based on universal internet principles and rules, but avoiding the "up-down" revolution that Russia, China, Iran and other countries are promoting. The EU is pressing to establish a clear timeline for the globalisation of ICANN and IANA's functions, that includes the launching of the Global Internet Policy Observatory, an online platform for creating transparency, accountability and global committment on internet policies.

Notwithstanding this trend, the Censor States have to be heard and their interests taken into consideration, because the risks of Balkanization of the Internet, its fragmentation along technical boundaries, are still too high for the further development of the cyberspace.

 



 

 

 

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