Walking the Tightrope: Multinational Technology Corporations and Global Internet Governance in the Age of Government Surveillance

Ryan Spagnolo is one of the eight 2014 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight the critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2014 Seminar discussions.

As the internet has come of age in the era of globalization, it has brought both significant benefits and new challenges to global communication. The multinational technology companies who provide internet services have had to weigh the benefits, costs, and risks involved in entering the industry. One major risk centers on their relationship with governments. Revelations of extensive government surveillance, and the related movement to “internationalize” and democratize internet governance have introduced the potential for disruptive and perhaps seismic shifts in how the internet operates. Multinational companies are in the process of developing strategies to address these foreign policy challenges and to protect their interests within the current global governance structure.

The theme for this year’s Milton Wolf Seminar was therefore timely. Significant portions of the discussions addressed how transformations occurring in global internet governance will influence corporate responses. The panelists identified three overarching themes as the drivers of the ongoing debates surrounding internet…

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Between the Local and the Global: Notes Towards Thinking of the Nature of Internet Policy

This post by Nishant Shah is part of a series related to the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy: The Third Man Theme Revisited: Foreign Policies of the Internet in a Time Of Surveillance and Disclosure, which takes place in Vienna, Austria from March 30 – April 1, 2014.

An imagined and perceived gap between the global and the local informs transnational politics and internet policy. The global views the local as both the site upon which the global can manifest itself as well as the microcosm that supports and strengthens global visions by providing mutations, adaptations and reengineering of the governance practices. The local is encouraged to connect with the global through a series of outward facing practices and policies, thus producing two separate domains of preservation and change.  On the one hand, the local, the organic and the traditional, needs to be preserved and make the transnational and the global the exotic other. On the other hand, the local also needs to be in a state of aspiration, transforming itself to belong to global networks of polity and policy that are deemed as desirable, especially for a development and rights based vision of societies.

While these negotiations and transactions are often fruitful and local, national, and transnational structures and mechanics have been developed to facilitate this flow, this relationship is precarious. There is an implicit recognition that the local and the transnational, dialectically produced, are often opaque categories and empty signifiers. They sustain themselves through unquestioned presumptions of particular attributes that are taken for granted in these interactions. There have been many different metaphors that have been used to understand and explain these complex transfers of knowledge and information, resources and capital, bodies and ideologies. Vectors, Flows, Disjunctures, Intersections are some of the examples. However, with the rise of the…

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“Ist” vs. “Soll”: the Dark Side of the Internet

This post by Richard Hill is part of a series related to the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy: The Third Man Theme Revisited: Foreign Policies of the Internet in a Time Of Surveillance and Disclosure, which takes place in Vienna, Austria from March 30 – April 1, 2014.

The internet has become a vitally important social infrastructure that profoundly impacts our societies.  It has transformed the way we do many things but the benefits promised for all have not been adequately realized. On the contrary, we have seen mass surveillance, abusive use of personal data and their use as a means of social and political control; the monopolization, commodification and monetisation of information and knowledge; inequitable flows of finances between poor and rich countries; and erosion of cultural diversity.  Many technical, and thus purportedly “neutral,” decisions have in reality led to social injustice as technology architectures, often developed to promote vested interests, increasingly determine social, economic, cultural and political relationships and processes.

Many of the issues outlined above are discussed in the context of what is called “internet governance,”  This is a minor industry, with something like 100 people working in it full-time, attending various meetings around the world.

Why isn’t there a “GSM governance” (Global System for Mobile Communications) industry, even though GSM reaches more than twice as many people, is more economically significant, and is more significant even as a tool for fostering political change?

Because offline law applies online, and some people don’t like this with respect to “the internet.”  In particular, some people think that the meta-rules, that is, the rules for making rules, should be different with respect to the internet.  Some think that technologists should set the rules for internet, others think that governments should set public policy, others think that all “stakeholders” should work together on an equal footing.  This last view in effect…

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Analyzing Foreign Policies of the Internet: Problems of Legitimacy and Knowledge in Collaborative Lawmaking

This post by Wolfgang Schulz is part of a series related to the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy: The Third Man Theme Revisited: Foreign Policies of the Internet in a Time Of Surveillance and Disclosure, which takes place in Vienna, Austria from March 30 – April 1, 2014.

During my latest research on internet policies and governance I have become more and more interested in legitimacy and knowledge problems in lawmaking during this time of “multistakeholdersim.” The Brazilian “Marco Civil” project is, for two key reasons, a perfect case of lawmaking that shortly illustrates these problems.

 Firstly, Marco Civil attempts to create a comprehensive framework for the internet as the basic information infrastructure of the knowledge society and the process of drafting the law has been highly participatory (Steibel, 2012). In this regard the Marco Civil process is significant as to how it reconstructs and seeks to change elements of legitimacy at first hand. Legitimacy is key to the acceptance of laws and regulations by those affected including citizens, NGOs, governments, and corporations.  Lawmaking and the question of legitimacy is, of course, first and foremost a political matter. In a democracy, the definition of what might be considered a social problem and which regulatory means should be applied to solve it, should be designed as a process of “public reasoning” (c.f. Kant, 1784, p. 490). That challenge can also be tackled by participatory means. Well-designed participatory processes have…

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