A Blog by Jonathan Low


Feb 17, 2014

Web Worries: Internet Governance May Be Too US-Centric - But the Alternative Might Be Worse

Between the US National Security Administration's (NSA) snooping,  the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) arrogance as well as the technological domination evinced by Amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google et al, it can seem like the US controls the web though the net's ultimate power resides in its global scale.

Even as loyal an American ally as the European Commission has now come out with a finding that challenges this dominance, recommending that governance of the internet be transitioned to a more international and less red-white-and-blue set of authorities, directives and cultural imperatives.

And in theory, that sounds reasonable. Why shouldn't the rest of the world have more of a say, especially as it is contributing so much of the expected future growth?

The problem with all this is that despite its sometimes heavy-handed intrusions, the US-based institutions that have nurtured the web's growth have, by and large, kept it open and free. Especially by the standards of large and growing countries whose suspicion of exactly that openness and freedom have led them to attempt to restrict access, usage and transparency. China, Turkey, Russia and their many smaller brethren have evinced a desire to 'manage' the web in ways that should give pause to anyone who believes that unfettered usage is crucial to global economic health and growth, especially their own personal variety.

There is an element of picking one's poison in this discussion, but soberly considering the realpolitik of the alternatives is a very necessary first step. JL

Ian Traynor reports in The Guardian:

It is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance.
The mass surveillance carried out by the US National Security Agency (NSA) means that governance of the internet has to be made more international and less dominated by America, the European Union’s executive has declared.
Setting out proposals on how the worldwide web should function and be regulated, the European commission called for a shift away from the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICAAN), which is subject to US law, is contracted by the US administration and is empowered to supervise how digital traffic operates.
“Recent revelations of large-scale surveillance have called into question the stewardship of the US when it comes to internet governance,” said the commission.
“Large-scale surveillance and intelligence activities have led to a loss of confidence in the internet.”

“Given the US-centric model of internet governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance … Large-scale surveillance and intelligence activities have led to a loss of confidence in the internet and its present governance arrangements.”
Besides criticising US domination of how the internet and digital traffic is organised, including the allocation and determination of domain names, the Brussels institution also warned against increasing governmental attempts to control the internet, as in China, Russia, Iran, and increasingly Turkey – which passed a stringent new law last week curbing online freedoms.
“Governments have a crucial role to play, but top-down approaches are not the right answer. We must strengthen the multi-stakeholder model,” said Neelie Kroes, the commissioner for digital affairs. “Our fundamental freedoms and human rights are not negotiable. They must be protected online.”
She spoke out against giving the United Nations the power to organise and supervise the internet or to grant such authority to the International Telecommunications Union, voicing fears that it would confer too much power on governments.

The commission called for a clear timeline diluting US authority over ICANN and making it more “global”; agreement on “a set of principles of internet governance to safeguard the open and unfragmented nature of the internet”; and a mediation body that would scrutinise conflicts arising from contradictory national jurisdictions over the internet.
Decisions over domain names and IP addresses should also be globalised, Brussels said. “The next two years will be critical in redrawing the global map of internet governance,” said Kroes.
Brussels is to take its proposals to an international conference on the issue in Brazil in April. Brazil, angered by the NSA revelations, has been highly critical of the US role in internet governance.
“Nearly every person has an interest in keeping the internet open, whether this is an economic, social or human rights interest,” said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal MEP who sits on an international body examining internet governance.
“Governments are attempting to bring the internet under national control. States like Russia and China use the argument of increasing cybersecurity to increase control over their own population. Organisations such as ICANN, which registers domain names worldwide, currently function under US law. That has to change.”


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