Calling a Bluff? Internet Governance Poker Heats up

CGCS Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Ben Wagner discusses the upcoming NETMundial conference in Brazil and questions whether ‘global forums’ actually impact the wider geopolitics of the internet.

With the coming ‘Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance’ NETmundial conference in Brazil, the debate on internet governance is heating up again. Less than two years after the ITU’s WCIT summit in Dubai and less than a year after revelations about mass NSA spying, a new attempt will be made to change the way the internet is governed. The NETmundial conference is both an attempt by the Brazilian government to find an answer to U.S. surveillance practices and an attempt to properly democratize and globalize internet governance.[1]

Recent statements by the U.S. government about changes to the IANA function, however, alter the regulatory environment and in so doing put in question the relevance of the Brazil conference as well as, such authority the conference has tried to accumulate. The U.S. government is changing the terms of the debate about global control over ICANN by, itself, soliciting proposals about the future of multistakeholder governance. The NETmundial conference was asking participants to contribute a “roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem.”  What such proposals should be shift and alter as the internet governance ecosystem has already changed.

The U.S.’s decision also demonstrates, with startling effectiveness, how little such ‘global forums’ actually matter in the wider geopolitics of the internet. Particularly when the whims of the U.S. are concerned, there…

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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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