Byron Holland is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). View bio
As mentioned in my blog last week, the Internet Society (ISOC) has posted a petition to maintain the multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance. The following is a guest blog by Bill Graham, who leads ISOC’s Strategic Engagement. Last week, Bill attended a UN-convened open consultation on enhanced cooperation on international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet.
By Bill Graham, Strategic Global Engagement, the Internet Society
The UN Under-Secretary-General, Sha Zukang, convened “open consultations on the process towards enhanced cooperation on international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet” in New York on December 14, 2010. I requested and received permission to speak as an NGO on behalf of the Internet Society (ISOC) as well as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) (at the request of the IAB). I believe there is a public interest in being able to share some of the positions taken, so I am pleased to provide my observations on CIRA’s blog. All written contributions to the consultation, and the text of most of the speeches, along with a webcast, and the program are to be posted to the DESA web.
Of the 25 formal presenters, 14 were governments, 10 were business or civil society organizations, and one was an intergovernmental organization (ITU). Several other governments and civil society organizations spoke during the open discussion. My estimate is that a small majority of governments spoke in favour of any mechanism for enhanced cooperation being multi-stakeholder, although several were strongly of the view that enhanced cooperation is strictly meant to be intergovernmental. Of course all business and civil society speakers were in favour of a multi-stakeholder model.
In the most coherent expression of the governments-only view, Brazil spoke for India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) as a group, presenting their plan for “a new world order“, in this case in the form of a new intergovernmental entity to deal with international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet. It would have governments deal with issues such as: stability, interoperability, network neutrality, human rights the balance between security, privacy, openness, and maintaining a development focus. Brazil went on to say that there has been progress toward internationalization of ICANN, but it is still dependent on one government. In their opinion, that contravenes UN practice and principles of multilateralism. They said there is a need for an intergovernmental platform formally established under the UN to discuss critical Internet resources and Internet governance. That said, IBSA reaffirms commitment to the Internet as a global facility based on the full participation of all stakeholders, in line with their roles and responsibilities, and denied that their proposal is an attempt to have the UN take over the Internet.
On the other side, IETF/ISOC, the European Commission, International Chamber of Commerce, ICANN, the NRO, the United Kingdom, the European Telecommunication Network Operators’ Association, Finland, Tech America, the Internet Governance Caucus, Italy, Serbia, the American Bar Association, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations and others spoke about the benefits of the multi-stakeholder model. Many examples of post-WSIS enhanced cooperation were offered and, in general, a pretty good case was made that enhanced cooperation is alive and well in the Internet world. The Internet Society made the point that it is not enough for the inter-governmental organizations to invite stakeholders to work in forums of their creation; it is also necessary for the IGOs to recognize there are many other forums within the existing Internet organizations where governments and IGOs need to go to cooperate.
After the formal presentations completed, USG Sha opened the floor for discussion. Milton Mueller, of Syracuse University, expressed concern about the IBSA proposal, which will fragment cooperation, not enhance it. He said a purely intergovernmental platform means that governments do not take seriously their interaction with other stakeholders. Nor would all governments agree to such a forum. He went on to remind the group that governments have no trans-national authority over the Internet. Public policy is the sovereign right of states within their national borders, but there is no international sovereignty over the Internet, which negates the position of several governments. He posed a question to governments: Why not embrace this challenge rather than running away from it?
John Curran (ARIN) and others questioned how the idea of a government-only enhanced cooperation process could possibly be considered, given the WSIS Tunis Agenda’s insistence that “The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations.” IGC pointed out that there is still a very long way to go before all stakeholders deal with each other in a constructive manner; thus work needs to be continued to enhance cooperation among all the stakeholders.
China took a new tack by saying that the existing Internet organizations have done a very good job of enhancing cooperation but that doesn’t mean that the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) doesn’t need to start a governmental process toward enhanced cooperation. They criticized the UNSG for not having started the process he was asked by WSIS to start by first quarter 2006, and said that governments need a private place to discuss how to deal with Internet-related public policy issues. They concluded by saying that the meeting’s purpose was to help the UNSG do his job starting the process, and so the meeting doesn’t need to reach consensus.
And in the Chair’s concluding remarks, that was the point he made rather strongly when talking about the way forward. He said the point of the meeting was to act upon the resolution passed by member states at the WSIS. If anyone does not like it, he said they have to go back to WSIS or the Economic and Social Council, and get the resolution overturned. The UN Secretariat will act on the resolution that is current.
As to whether there would be a process on enhanced cooperation, he said that’s no longer for discussion. On the other hand, Sha said all should agree “we” have existing institutions like ITU, ICANN, CSTD, ECOSOC, and they’ve all played their respective roles. He said there’s no question the IGF role is recognized, and will be extended for five years. Those existing mechanisms should continue, including UN institutions like CSTD. But he said none has created new overarching groups; he admitted CSTD has established a working group, but said that’s not frightening because it is just a working group: let them work. He noted the working group is to take into account the views of all stakeholders. CSTD is a governmental group, he said, and its working group is also governmental, but it can’t do its job without taking into account the views of others. Then in an interesting aside, he mused that the world has changed. When he was in government he said he used to shout at Civil Society that they are not accountable to anyone. But he admitted he was wrong – they are the source of ideas, and have experience in the field, so the UN should benefit from their experiences. No one says don’t consult them, he continued; they should be consulted and make recommendations.
And so it ended. The conclusion is that there has now been a multi-stakeholder consultation, and there will not be more on this topic. The Under-Secretary-General (Sha) will go away and write a report for next June-July’s ECOSOC meeting as requested, with recommendations that will take into account the views expressed at the December 14 meeting. My bet, if I was to make one, is that the recommendation will be to create an intergovernmental working group on enhanced cooperation, possibly with occasional consultation meetings for other stakeholders.
It seems to me that some member states are successfully getting the UN system to back away from progress made toward multi-stakeholder engagement since the WSIS. UN bodies also increased the number and frequency of largely ritualistic consultations with the non-governmental organizations, which has the effect of stretching our and other organizations’ resources and ability to deal with them. Whether that is a deliberate tactic, or just an accident arising from lack of coordination, is hard to say. I do think, however, those of interested in the health of the Internet and the Internet ecosystem need to consider carefully where we will participate in the next year, focusing more strategically on meetings and mechanisms where we believe we can have a real impact.
In light of recent events, the Internet Society (ISOC) has posted a petition to maintain the multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance. This included a meeting of the United Nation’s Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), where a decision was made to create a Working Group on Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The membership of this Working Group is made up entirely of governments.
Also, let’s call a spade a spade here. This was a hastily called, special, meeting for a Monday night in Geneva. Why does that matter? Because it means that only UN Mission staff, not the deep subject matter experts, would even have a chance of attending. And even many of the Mission staff would not likely make it given the odd timing and short notice. But remarkably the Chair was able to rustle up enough staffers from the countries that tend to be anti-multistakeholder (the usual suspects) to have a vote – and lo and behold, its governments only! I hate to sound like a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, but it sure is a remarkable number of coincidences.
If you read this blog regularly, you know why I believe this multi-lateral approach to Internet governance is a mistake. If you don’t know my position, please read this, this, this, and especially this.
I will be signing the petition on behalf of CIRA. Are you going to sign ISOC’s petition?
I’m currently in Cartagena, Colombia at ICANN’s 39th International Meeting. This meeting started off with a bit of a bang with the U.S. government sending an aggressively worded letter to ICANN’s Board critical of the process regarding the launch of new gTLDs. Here’s Beckstrom’s carefully scripted opening remarks at the meeting; quite a well-crafted response in my opinion.
What’s interesting this time around is how the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) is making its presence felt. The GAC, not known as the fastest moving of ICANN committees, released this communiqué yesterday:
ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee Communique
In it, the GAC strongly called on the ICANN Board to delay its decision on new gTLDs, given numerous outstanding issues. The result? ICANN delayed finalizing the rules for new Internet extensions until a special meeting of the GAC can be held in the Spring of 2011, meaning that the earliest a decision will be made is when ICANN meets next.
I’d like to share some good news that has come out of our meeting in Cartagena. Heather Dryden, a Senior Policy Advisor with Industry Canada and a member of CIRA’s Board of Directors, was elected chair of the GAC. Heather has been acting as interim chair of the GAC for a while now, and has been a strong voice for government’s interests at ICANN, and for Canada. Congratulations, Heather!
Just a quick head’s up: CIRA will be submitting an application to host an ICANN meeting in Canada in October 2012. We’re very excited to be considered for this opportunity. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.
Expect a full report on ICANN’s 39th International Meeting next week.
On December 1, 2000, CIRA assumed the management of the .CA registry. Ten years later, I had a talk with John Demco, the creator of the .CA top-level domain about the early days of the Internet in Canada, and what he sees for the future. You can watch our conversation here:
Last week, members of the CIRA team crossed the country attending consultations as part of the Canadian Internet Forum (CIF), a CIRA-led initiative to talk to Canadians about their views on the role of the Internet in their lives and the economy.
With the help of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Media Awareness Network (MNet) we’ve talked about the Internet, its future, how it is developing and who is – and, who should be – governing it. We’ve consulted with government representatives, the private sector, education leaders, community organizations, and Internet users (among many, many others). We hosted six consultations (Winnipeg, Halifax, Iqaluit, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver), three exploring the theme of the digital economy and three the theme of digital literacy.
What have we learned?
As large and diverse as Canada is, there are many issues Canadians share with regard to the Internet: broadband access and cost, online safety and Canada’s international digital ranking top the list. IPv6 proved to be a real concern for many participants (perhaps due to CBC Spark’s great report that aired the weekend before most of the consultations).
That’s not to say that there aren’t regional differences in what Canadians have to say. Participants in the Iqaluit consultation were the only ones who mentioned satellite technology as an issue. In Winnipeg, we learned about the increasingly important role the Internet in playing in the agricultural industry. And, in Montreal, participants agreed Canada could be taking a real leadership position in Internet issues, and noted how digital competencies are more and more critical to citizenship. Torontonians talked a lot about innovation and a vision for the future of the digital economy (a philosophical bunch, I’m told).
Most importantly, in my opinion, what we’ve learned is that Canadians are engaged, interested and motivated in talking about issues of Internet governance. It’s often the conversations that happen after consultations that are the most enlightening. If people are interested, they’ll hang around for a while and talk with each other and the facilitators. This happened at every consultation.
We were told at every single meeting that the CIF should carry on in one form or another. The issues are just too important and the Internet changes too rapid to not keep the dialogue going. I agree.
In a blog post last week, I mentioned that I thought we – those of us that work in the Internet governance world – haven’t done a great job in communicating how important these issues are to the people they impact. It’s clear that the Internet affects nearly every Canadian, from the Inuit carver who sells his art online to the grain farmer in Manitoba whose combine is connected to the ‘net to the bankers on Bay Street who conduct multi-million dollar transactions over the Internet every day.
In a way, with the CIF, we’re putting out a challenge to others involved in Internet governance around the globe. We don’t own the Internet, and we don’t have any special monopoly over it. The Internet, from its inception has been governed by the grassroots. Nobody foresaw its incredible growth and influence – it is now the most pervasive and important technology the world has seen in decades (if not centuries), and touches the lives of almost every Canadian. Knowing that, we must ensure that they are included – in one way or another – in the decision-making processes about how the Internet is run. It’s our responsibility as the ‘leaders’ of the ‘net to ensure this happens.
With the CIF, we’re doing our best to engage Canadians in dialogue; we’re trying to meet Canadians where they are, all in an effort to be better informed as one of the organizations on the inside of the Internet governance world. We will take what we learn from Canadians as a result of the CIF to the international Internet governance fora in which we participate – ICANN], the UN’s IGF, and so on. This information will inform our positions at these fora, and will provide the evidence for policy decisions.
On a somewhat related note, Industry Minister Tony Clement presented an update on the development of Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy today. You might remember that Industry Canada held a national consultation on the digital economy in the early summer of 2010. Numerous people and organizations submitted their views on what the digital economy strategy should look like. In our submission (.PDF), CIRA made 19 recommendations, including calling on the federal government to take a lead role in IPv6 adoption and to develop an emergency response team, capable of responding to events involving the Internet.
The update was short on specifics, but dropped a few hints at the direction the government is taking. Minister Clement announced a federal, provincial/territorial meeting of economic development ministers in early 2011 to explore intergovernmental collaboration on digital issues such as skills development and the availability of broadband in rural and remote areas. Also, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) will make Information and Communications Technology adoption among its clients a strategic focus – at first glance an interesting strategy to stimulate digital innovation in Canada, though I’d like to see some details.
We will have to wait until we hear the full strategy in May 2011 to see where Minister Clement wants to take Canada’s digital economy. In the meantime, let’s keep talking about Internet governance.
Today, CIRA announced a great new initiative at the meshmarketing event in Toronto. Beginning January 6, 2011, we will begin accepting submissions for the .CA Impact Awards, a celebration of people and organizations that use their .CA website to make a difference.
The prizes are great (the winner gets a cheque for $5,000). To find out how you or someone you know could be the first .CA Impact Award Winner, visit www.impactawards.ca.
Submissions will be accepted from January 6 to March 25, 2011.
Do you know someone who uses their .CA website to make a difference?
Recently, I blogged about the ITU Plenipotentiary 2010 (PP10) conference in Mexico, here, and here. There was a lot of activity and discussion both inside and outside the ITU conference (it was not a public event, nor were any of the documents that were discussed made public) about what the future of the ITU’s involvement with the Internet would be.
For years, the ITU has been making repeated attempts at taking over the Internet, basically ignoring existing organizations, like ICANN, who are involved in running the Internet. There were some very interesting – and concerning – resolutions put forward at PP10, including one that would have seen ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee replaced with an ITU-appointed body.
In the end, the ITU plenary agreed to a number of watered down, benign (from my point of view) resolutions. There’s a good wrap up of the conference here, including the resolutions passed by the ITU in Mexico.
However, there was one resolution that sparked my interest. It related to initiating discussions to work with organizations that already work in the Internet governance arena. ICANN was named by the ITU as one of these organizations. Interestingly, the mere mention of ICANN in an ITU resolution is seen as a breakthrough. What kind of world is it when the mere acknowledgement that there are other players involved in running the Internet is considered a huge step forward?
What all of the activity around the PP10 showed me is that Internet governance is increasingly important, not just to those of us who attend ITU and ICANN meetings, but to everyone. The Internet touches all of our lives, both personally and professionally. As I stated in an earlier post, the Internet really is the greatest driver of the economy since the invention of the steam engine, and has given voice to the voiceless.
It should be, then, the goal of those of us on the ‘inside’ to do two things. First, we should start communicating what happens at these fora in a meaningful way, and second, we should listen. The Internet doesn’t belong to ICANN or IANA or the ITU. It belongs to everybody, so it only makes sense that we take the time to listen.
That’s why I’m proud to say that this week, CIRA, with some help from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Media Awareness Network (MNet) has started a new initiative, a Canadian Internet forum. Over the next month, we will be hosting regional, by-invitation consultations in Winnipeg, Halifax, Iqaluit, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
This forum will be the place to discuss, debate and propose directions for the development, deployment and governance of the Internet in Canada. In essence, we are charting Canada’s Internet future. If you are not participating in the consultation, have no fear. You will have plenty of opportunity to have your voice heard throughout the process (including via an online discussion forum), and the outcomes will be discussed at a national, open-to-the-public event in February 2011.
November 1 to 5 is Media Literacy Week in Canada, an annual event led by Media Awareness Network (MNet) and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. At CIRA, we believe that the open, accessible nature of the Internet have made it the incredible driver of creativity and innovation it is today. Unfortunately, it is these very traits – openness and global accessibility – that make the Internet appealing to people and organizations that may be intent on malicious activity.
That’s why we’re proud to be a sponsor of MNet as we work together to make the Internet a safer place for Canadians.
What are you doing to advance digital literacy?
Last week, I laid out some of the higher level issues around Internet governance and some of the discussions that are currently going on in Mexico at a meeting of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). In this blog post, my intent is to explain two different approaches to Internet governance, and give my reasons why I believe the multi-stakeholder approach is best.
The question at hand: Do we stick with the current multi-stakeholder approach, or, as many would argue, do we move to a UN-style multi-lateral approach?
First off, however, I think I need to clarify one of the basic issues. The term Internet governance, in my mind, encompasses both the policy and technical issues inherent in the Internet. The two cannot be separated – they are inextricably linked.
Many nations, including Russia and Syria, would like to see the authority over the Internet moved to a UN-style organization, like the ITU, with a multi-lateral governance structure.
A multi-lateral approach to governance really has been the model of choice for international entities for many years (in fact, this approach started with the ITU when it was formed in 1865). A multi-lateral approach has been the backbone of international cooperation: the UN, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, and the World Trade Organization all operate within a multi-lateral model. Simply put, in theory the multi-lateral approach gives a voice to nation states in a forum to discuss issues of international importance.
This approach works for many organizations, there’s no doubt. And, the UN is a great organization that has accomplished many things. It is also frustratingly bureaucratic and slow.
ICANN, the organization that’s currently ‘in charge’ of the Internet is governed by a multi-stakeholder structure that includes governments, operators, the technical community, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and others.
Simply put, it is a mix of both public and private entities at the regional, national and international levels. It involves ensuring that the parties that have a stake in the successful operation of the Internet have a say in how the Internet is run. And, there are many more parties involved in looking after the Internet than just ICANN: the NRO, ARIN, the IETF, and many other organizations play a role in making sure the Internet is secure, and operates without downtime.
Relatively speaking, the Internet is still new. It also represents an entirely new entity, like nothing the world has ever seen. It transcends nation states, and really turns our commonly held notions of governance models upside down. Not to sound too pie in the sky, but the Internet really does give a voice to the voiceless.
The current system isn’t perfect. There’s no doubt that some nations have more say than others. It’s true that many countries in the developing world are not as connected to the Internet as in the developed world. Yes, these countries should have a say in the direction the Internet is taking. There’s no question that the Internet is an essential resource for economic and social development in the 21st century. I do not, however, believe that the current parties behind the activity at the ITU have the best interest of the developing world at heart.
I’ll be perfectly frank. Much of the rhetoric we’re hearing out of the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP10) is based on extremist ideologies. I find it hard to believe that a country where only 8,000 computers are connected to the Internet, such as Syria, is truly championing the Internet as a tool for development. Can we trust a country that blocks access to many websites, including Facebook, Hotmail, YouTube, all .Blogspot sites and many, many others in the driver’s seat for what is essentially one of the most powerful communications tools in the history of modern civilization?
If the ITU were serious about expanding the global reach of the Internet and ensuring the voices of the developing world are heard, it would do better by focusing energies on expanding broadband access.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that these ITU meetings are closed, and are informed by documents that are secretive. As of yet, I have not been able to access any of the resolutions that have been passed at PP10, including Resolution 101. This resolution, from what I can gather from Twitter, involves Internet governance, and the multi-stakeholder approach. As an active participant with ICANN, and as vice-chair of the Country Code Names Supporting Organisation (ccNSO) of ICANN, I find this particularly infuriating. There are discussions taking place at PP10 about restructuring ICANN, yet a request by ICANN’s President and CEO Rod Beckstrom to attend the PP10 was declined.
Interesting note: I understand from Kieren McCarthy, who is attending the PP10, that discussions about Internet governance and the role of ITU have ceased due to “bad-tempered and, at times, surreal discussions that stretched through the weekend.” The ITU may have reached an impasse on those resolutions that would have seen it make steps toward taking control of the Internet.
Isn’t it ironic that the ITU has failed to take control of the Internet for the very same reason that many of us thought them controlling the Internet was problematic? For once (and I hope for the last time), bureaucratic delays and the deeply entrenched position of a minority of opinions win!
The Internet gives voice to the voiceless, and has the power to advance the spread of democracy and progress. Are we willing to give that power to countries who exercise extreme censorship of all things, the Internet included, within their borders?
The world of Internet governance can be a lonely one. I can’t tell you how many blank stares I’ve gotten when, upon meeting someone new, the question about what I do for a living comes up. At that point, the next question is usually something like, “Somebody runs the Internet? I thought it was the government,” or “Looks like rain, don’t you think?”
Generally speaking, people don’t tend to give a lot of thought to how the Internet is run, nor who runs it. Yet, the Internet is the late 20th century’s equivalent to the steam engine. Just as the steam engine enabled a shift from cottage industries to machine-based manufacturing sparking the Industrial Revolution, the Internet has become the driver of a new, knowledge-based economy, and has also radically altered the ways in which we communicate with each other.
On the surface, Internet governance may appear to be dry. When you start to dig a little deeper, though, it’s not a dry subject at all. It is, in fact a high stakes game where decisions are made that affect everything from the economy to freedom of speech, and not just in abstract, high-level ways. There are decisions that are made that have real world impacts on the day-to-day lives of people around the world, including Canadians.
This week the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) kicked off its Plenipotentiary Conference (PP10) in Guadalajara, Mexico. It’s a marathon event held every four years – three weeks of workshops, presentations, elections, and networking involving representatives from 192 nations, more than 700 companies and other national, regional and international organizations.
The ITU, which is an agency of the UN, regulates information and communication technology issues.The ITU has increasingly been working on issues related to Internet governance.
This is the first in a series of blogs that I will write over the next couple of weeks about Internet governance, the ITU and how and why these decision-making structures affect all of us. I believe these issues are very important and have the potential to affect the very foundations of many aspects of society, including the economy and how we communicate with each other.
The Internet is a rapidly developing world. When CIRA began 10 years ago, no-one could have anticipated the unparalleled growth we’ve seen in the Internet itself, nor could anyone have foreseen how integral it would become to the global economy and communications systems.
I believe that one of the main reasons that the Internet has been able to become such a strong economic and communications force is because of its openness, adaptability and resilience – a direct product of the bottoms-up, consensus-based decision-making processes through which it has been governed since its inception. This governance framework reflects the decentralized, bottoms-up, open nature of the Internet itself.
CIRA’s position is that this approach to Internet governance is central to safeguarding and preserving the characteristics of the Internet that have underpinned its success. I was pleased to hear the Government of Canada take a strong position on the roles and responsibilities of the actors on the Internet governance stage at PP10. In her policy statement to the PP10, Helen McDonald, Assistant Deputy Minister at Industry Canada, stated:
“The Union must avoid the temptation to dilute its impact by seeking authority over issues that are being addressed appropriately by other organizations.”
(Diplo-speak translation: Hey, ITU. Don’t try to muscle in on something that’s not your bailiwick.)
However, there appear to be many others who do not share this point of view. There are many nations that would like to see an intergovernmental treaty organization – like the ITU – in charge of the Internet.
Here’s an example:
There is a movement afoot at the ITU PP10 that would see it take over, or at the very least be able to exert its influence on, the Internet. Earlier in the week, the Russian Federation, along with a group of former Soviet nations, filed a proposal that would see the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) to ICANN – the organization that has been coordinating and governing the Internet since 1999 – scrapped. In its place, they proposed, would be an ITU group, effectively giving the ITU a veto over ICANN decisions.
I see changing the governance structure as problematic for many reasons. As I stated earlier, it’s the bottom-up, organic, multi-stakeholder approach that has enabled the Internet to be what it is today. And, there are currently intergovernmental treaty bodies that participate in governance processes, notably the ITU and the IGF. However, what we don’t need is the imposition of such bureaucratic institutions and their cumbersome processes, on the decision-making processes for the Internet.
I will blog about this in-depth in my next post, but here’s the condensed version of why I think this is wrong.
These large, multi-lateral institutions are burdened with incredibly bureaucratic processes that would increase costs associated with governance and slow down both the decision-making processes and the Internet’s evolution. A multi-lateral treaty-based institution would exclude or impair the open, transparent and equal participation of business, individuals and civil society – the true stakeholders and drivers of the Internet. In my opinion, it only makes sense to have the people and organizations that live and breathe the Internet at the table where the decisions are made.
Organizations like the ITU are hierarchical, top-down bodies that exist in a hyper-political environment. As such, they are susceptible to political intervention, influence and trade-offs.
Coinciding with my thinking on this, Canada today withdrew its candidacy for one of the seats on the UN Security Council, leaving Portugal to take one of the two open seats on the Council (the other was Germany). This is the first time in history that Canada has been unsuccessful in securing a seat on the Council. The fact that two European nations took the vacant seats means that five of the 15 members on the Council are also members of the European Union.
Canada’s withdrawal ends weeks of behind the scenes wheeling and dealing. In fact, according to some diplomats, Canada’s bid was doubtful, because Canada spent less time and energy lobbying UN delegates for votes than it had in years past. I have a hard time believing that a similar governance structure would benefit the Internet world. Putting aside the time it takes for decisions to be made by the UN, do we really want decisions about the Internet made on the basis of which nation can wine and dine the most delegates?
When a group of like-minded nations holds the balance of power (or, at least some significant sway) over an institution, like the EU ostensibly holds on the Security Council, I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking that decisions made by the institution will benefit those nations, or at least will not be detrimental to them.
How would this work if a UN body were put in charge of the Internet? What if a group of nations with no democratic traditions, protections for free speech or commitment to a free market economy held the balance of power over the most powerful communications tool – the real driver of much of the world’s economy – of the past 50 years? The fact is the majority of the UN’s (and the ITU’s) membership do not fall into the democratic, free economy nation category.
I mean, let’s be frank here. Do we want Iran, who famously shut down the Internet within their borders to quell dissent, in the driver’s seat? Or, what about the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, who have been bullying Canada’s Research in Motion to get them loosen up the security on Blackberry devices so that they can monitor their citizens? Or, maybe China, who pushed Google to censor search results within its borders?
There are discussions going on behinds closed doors that potentially could have wide-reaching impacts.
On a related note, the UN currently has an open public consultation on “Enhanced Cooperation on International Public Policy Issues Pertaining to the Internet.” It’s an opportunity to have your voice heard on the topic of Internet governance.
How do you feel about multilateral governance of the Internet?