U.N. Looking at Internet Governorship

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Since the late 1980s, the Internet has been governed by private organisations.  This could all change in December during the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) when the torch of internet regulation could be passed to the United Nations (U.N.).

Private bodies dedicated to a multiple-stakeholder model, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), effectively shape the rules of the Internet with Government representatives present only as an “advisory committee”.

Concerns over Internet regulation have now risen among national governments, even those dedicated to protecting the multiple-stakeholder model, namely the U.S. and European Union. These concerns are due to recent events, for example, the creation of a dedicated .xxx domain for adult content and ICANN’s plan to expand top-level domains.

When the WCIT meets, it will be considering proposals for reform that governments have put forward.

One such proposal is that of a new U.N. committee dedicated to Internet-related issues put forth by India, Brazil and South Africa. This committee would oversee Icann and the other nongovernmental organisations; however, they say that it would not lead to anything more than “recommendations”.

Another proposal on the table is one offered by China and Russia: a voluntary code of conduct for information security.

Finding Balance

There is now the question finding the balance between the current status quo and these proposals.

As it stands, the Internet isn’t perfect:

  • With the expansion of the top-level domains, the enforcement of intellectual-property rights, such as trademarks is becoming more difficult.
  • Internet freedom is being sacrificed in the face of laws like PIPA and SOPA in the U.S. and the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreements law.
  • A lack of competent legal tools and coordination mechanisms has placed privacy and security at risk.
  •  The U.S. has exclusivity over ICANN and the root zone file, a database used to translate worldwide unique names by almost all Internet applications.

On the other hand however, would the U.N. be able to manage the Internet effectively? Would government control lead to a greater risk of political censorship and inefficiencies?

More Involvement from All Parties

While alternatives to the multiple-stakeholder model don’t seem practical or desirable in terms of the technical regulations managing the Internet, those private organisations like ICANN can be made more accountable. Its Government Advisory Committee could be given more representation or power which may help address national governments fears of not being sufficiently involved.

The question of creating an entirely new U.N. committee has also been raised. The European Court of Justice recently ruled that filtering and monitoring of end-users could be considered a violation of the fundamental human-right to communication. This would indicate that the preservation and promotion of independent Web media falls into the sphere of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

As for Web security, new cyber threats could be combatted effectively through a global partnership between governments and the private sector.

The Internet has brought great economic and social advancements. Some of these advancements have been essential for a great deal of rapid development in many of the concerned countries. The WCIT will face a hefty burden trying to find the right balance.

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