India Wants UN Body To Run The Internet: Would That Be Such A Bad Thing?
from the can't-go-on-like-this dept
The Internet is under attack ? but not, as politicians would have us believe, from hordes of cyber criminals, but from the politicians themselves. Alongside national legislation like E-PARASITE and international treaties such as ACTA, there is this proposal that a UN body should take over the running of the whole system:
The Indian government has formally proposed a government takeover of the Internet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
In a statement sent yesterday, India argued for the creation of a new body to be called the United Nations Committee for Internet-Related Policies (CIRP) which would develop Internet policies, oversee all Internet standards bodies and policy organizations, negotiate Internet-related treaties, and act as an arbitrator in Internet-related disputes.
The CIRP would exist under the United Nations, comprise of 50 Member States, be funded by the United Nations, run by staff from the UN?s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) arm, and report directly to the UN General Assembly.
Despite the proposal representing an extraordinary shift from the status quo to a single, purely government-run Internet body, India?s spokesman, Mr Dushyant Singh, argued that the proposal ?should not be viewed as an attempt by governments to ?take over? or ?regulate and circumscribe? the Internet.?
In a nod to the multi-stakeholder model of decision-making that currently defines much of the Internet?s processes – and where all actors from business to academia to the technical community and governments are given equal say in decisions – the Indian proposal foresees the creation of four ?Advisory Groups? that would represent civil society, the private sector, inter-governmental and international organizations, and the technical and academic community.
Those groups would provide recommendations to the CIRP. The CIRP would consider them, along input from the existing Internet Governance Forum, at an annual two-week conference at the UN building in Geneva and then present its own subsequent recommendations to the UN General Assembly.
As the author of that report, Kieren McCarthy, points out:
A very similar proposal to that proposed this week was published by a joint group of the Indian, South African and Brazilian governments just prior to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nairobi last month and caused some controversy when it clearly implied that the proposal came with the support of civil society and the technical community.
Its recommendations, which also foresaw all Internet organizations being pulled under the control of a new government-run United Nations body, were disowned by civil society and they then received a definitive thumbs-down from the broader Internet community during the IGF open session on ?critical Internet resources?, during which the Indian government representative stated that the paper had only been put out for discussion.
Despite the very negative response to that paper, however, the Indian government pressed ahead with discussions on the exact same lines at an IBSA Summit on 18 October in Durban, South Africa. And the result of that meeting was the proposal put to the UN General Assembly yesterday.
That would suggest that the Indian proposal doesn’t really stand much of a chance, and many will doubtless cheer that, seeing it as a dangerous attempt to “take over” the Internet ? despite India’s assurances to the contrary.
If a UN Committee for Internet-Related Policies, adequately linked to multi-stakeholder public sphere, were able to set global norms for the Internet in an adequately open and inclusive manner, then neither the US government, corrupted by big-pocketed IP rights-holders, nor repressive governments such as China, would be able to regulate the Internet in isolation from these norms.
Now, some might say that governments have no role in setting policy norms for the Internet, even if it is in consultation with other stakeholders. In the long run, I agree: we should be able to develop a multi-stakeholder transnational governance mechanism that is not grounded in the nation-state. But we are far from that position now, and it is those most opposed to Internet governance reform who make this point most often, when opposing a norm-setting role for the IGF. They insist that the discussions at the IGF should merely inform norm-setting processes that take place at higher levels.
But where are those norms to be set, where no authoritative transnational institution already exists to set them? Unless an expansion of the IGF’s mandate can be considered, then clearly some new mechanism is required. This was recognised at WSIS [World Summit on the Information Society] in 2005 when an “enhanced cooperation” mechanism was mandated, and it remains equally true today. The Indian proposal for a UN Committee for Internet-Related Policies is the first serious attempt by any government to propose such a mechanism, and for this it is to be welcomed. Civil society ought not to fall into the trap of rejecting this proposal out of hand, if the alternative is to leave existing more narrow Internet governance hegemonies unchallenged.
It’s an important point: after all, the way the Internet is run and developed at the moment is hardly perfect. As Malcolm notes:
some of the most important areas of public policy online are not governed by multi-stakeholder networks at all, not even by any existing intergovernmental organisations, but by individual national governments and big businesses. The most blind to this seem to be representatives of technical community, who for practical purposes maintain a very narrow pre-WGIG [Working Group on Internet Governance] definition of Internet governance that excludes vital issues such as intellectual property enforcement, privacy and data protection, online filtering and censorship and network neutrality.
It is precisely those issues that are driving many of the recent ill-conceived legislative proposals around the world aimed at “taming” the Internet. Maybe we do need a new approach to Internet governance; whether or not the Indian initiative is the way forward, it is a at least raising some crucial questions.