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Internet Governance 23 May 2014

2014 – A Crucial Year for the Internet

We are quickly approaching the mid-point in a pivotal year for the evolution of the Internet. 

I recently spoke at the INET Istanbul, which offered another important opportunity for multistakeholder dialogue on critical Internet issues. The INET provided a bridge between two important meetings — just one month after NETmundial in São Paulo, Brazil and a few months ahead of the 9th meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which will also be held in Istanbul in early September. These meetings call upon the international community to reflect on the kind of Internet we want and how we want to answer the many open questions related to its governance and its future.

The core values of the Internet pioneers are deeply rooted in the belief that the human condition can be enhanced through reducing barriers to communication and information. As such, the success of the Internet is based on an open and collaborative approach to policy, standards, and technology development. Without open standards, the Internet would not be the powerful catalyst it is for access to information, freedom of expression, and innovation. 

Unfortunately, there have been, and currently are, many examples of governments using technological measures to restrict access to content deemed undesirable. In fact, the debate on Internet governance is seen by many as another attempt by authoritarian governments to stifle the medium and to gain control over its content.

Internet Governance, the Multistakeholder Process and NETmundial

There are many dimensions to the debate on Internet governance, and the recent NETmundial was a strong signal to the world that the community is seeking to fulfill its commitment towards gaining a better understanding of all those dimensions.

The most important outcome from NETmundial was its endorsement of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance: the conference proved that all stakeholders are able to work together and to move towards convergence and a common understanding on some critical issues. To me, the most encouraging aspect was that governments accepted that other stakeholders had as much to say as they have and that their voice counted as much. This was important, as without a clear signal in this regard, the pressure to move to more traditional, top-down intergovernmental arrangements would have increased and culminated at the Plenipotentiary meeting of the International Telecommunication Union to be held in Busan, Korea, this October.

NETmundial was, however, not able to provide answers to all open questions and concerns. It passed some issues for discussion on to other organizations and platforms, such as the IGF. The IGF is now called upon to produce some tangible outputs.

Next Steps and the IGF

The disclosures last year of pervasive government surveillance programs were akin to a seismic shift in the Internet governance landscape. The large-scale nature of these programs made Internet users realize that the chain of trust ─ which is essential to the good functioning of the Internet ─ had been broken. This realization created a sense of urgency to review current Internet governance arrangements and to rebuild Internet users’ trust in the Internet, its function, and how it fits into society. This was the underlying theme at the 2013 IGF meeting. There was a general agreement that the IGF was the privileged place to pursue these discussions and that the multistakeholder format was the only way forward.

Given the current challenges and given the necessity to restore trust and confidence in the Internet, it is essential to involve all stakeholders, from developed as well as developing countries, in discussions on the future evolution of the Internet. The IGF has proved its worth as a place where the community gathers to share experiences and exchange information. It provides protection, legitimacy, and credibility to the multistakeholder model, since it is the only truly open and inclusive multistakeholder platform under the UN umbrella.

The upcoming IGF in Istanbul should therefore be the starting point for such an evolution. It can take the discussion from NETmundial forward on the long path towards creating a new chain of trust for the Internet and finding a new international consensus on multistakeholder Internet governance.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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