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Driver of Change: The Role of Government

As the Internet grows and expands into more parts of our lives, there are strong trends and forces driving governments to regulate and legislate, particularly from economic and security perspectives.  In fact, in our recent survey, most respondents indicated they expect to see greater government involvement in the future Internet.

As one participant put it: “It’s not a question of if [there will be more regulation]. It’s a question of to what extent – will it be a light-touch or a heavy-hand?”  Another remarked "regulators are now moving fiercely into a space that they did not previously think they could regulate.”

Increased government involvement and interest in areas typically referred to as “digital sovereignty” is also seen to be on the rise and a concerning trend that may fundamentally impact the future of the Internet.  Such actions include forced data localization and personal identification requirements, as well as “national security measures,” such as network shutdowns, that allow governments to curb dissent and silence expression.  As one participant noted, “Governments around the globe are now shaping the Internet narrative because they are aware of the capability and breadth of the tools at their control.”  

Overall, the rise of nationalist and populist movements globally have many stakeholders concerned that governments may turn away from a global Internet and global multi-stakeholder coordination in the future, and erect national policy barriers and requirements that result in fundamental technical and policy fragmentation of the Internet.

Yet some see an increased need for government involvement the future Internet. “Technology needs to be regulated from the perspective of protection of citizens, national security, and safeguarding national values,” indicated one respondent. “It does not need to be a wild space.”

At the same time, many feel the ability of governments to engage in and respond to fast moving technological advances will be limited.   Participants are concerned that the pace of change will outstrip the ability of policy-makers to keep up to date, let alone consider the implications and act soundly.  

While there is recognition that greater government involvement in the future Internet is inevitable, the key uncertainty for many is what kind of involvement will it be? 

Key Challenges and Uncertainties Raised by our Community 

  • Possible deepening of cyber-sovereignty approaches, especially in the wake of growing nationalism and perceived political threats.
  • Global, regional, and national policy fragmentation, particularly fuelled by economic and security concerns.
  • Intrusive regulations, restrictions, and Internet shutdowns, that impact more of society and the economy as the Internet grows.
  • Use of the Internet by governments for individual and political persecution/surveillance, using Internet against society.
  • Use of the Internet for government propaganda.
  • Interference of foreign governments in political life and national systems.
  • Growing possibility of increased government involvement and intrusiveness in the Internet in general and the loss of a lightly regulated Internet.

Questions from our Community:

  • To what extent will the Internet be used by government regimes and other sources of power to control and influence society?
  • What will be the practical impacts on the Internet if growing nationalism gives way to cyber-sovereignty approaches at the expense of global, multi-stakeholder coordination?
  • Will national governments take a light-touch approach to Internet policy and regulation in the future or a more intrusive, heavy-hand?