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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“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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Reflections for the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar

This post by Alison Gillwald 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 work of Research ICT Africa (RIA) in relation to internet governance has sought to understand why few African countries participate actively in internet governance debates, despite the significant resources of multilateral and donor agencies thrown at such endeavours and opportunities created for participation through multistakeholder initiatives – with a few notable exceptions such as Kenya. Fewer still are involved in agenda setting and decision-making, or seek to engineer internet governance outcomes to serve their interests, whatever those might be perceived to be. This is despite the rhetoric of dissatisfaction with current internet governance systems.

From an African perspective, internet governance requires not only an understanding of the unevenness in access to and use of the internet, but also of the disparities between developed and developing countries’ abilities to effectively participate in global internet governance debates. My own intermittent work in this area has sought to identify the political and economic assumptions underpinning the governance of the internet, specifically behind efforts to make it more democratic, both representative and participatory, through multistakeholderism from an institutional perspective.

African countries appear to be far more comfortable in national sovereign state membership based organizations, where – despite limited institutional reforms over the last decade which have seen parts of civil society and…

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