Authoritarian Governments Still Trying To Seek More Control Over The Internet
from the well,-duh dept
There was plenty of attention paid to the failed WCIT meeting last year, in which some countries effectively sought greater control over the internet, leading many countries to refuse to sign on. There has since been plenty of reasonable concern that the end result of this is a fragmented internet, with one internet for those who believe in internet freedom and openness… and one for those who don’t.
And, of course, the whole ITU WCIT process was never going to be the end of such discussions. Eli Dourado, who has been following this stuff closely for a while, recently had a good report about how various authoritarian governments made a bit of a power play for more control over internet governance. The issue may seem bureaucratic and messy, but that’s also why it’s important to pay attention. Because mixed in with all that bureaucracy are some key decisions.
The short version is that countries agreed, nearly a decade ago, at the World Summit on Information Society, that governments shouldn’t have too much control over the internet. This was initially directed at the US, since it really did have an awful lot of power over the internet. So, an agreement was reached with the following language on a “multi-stakeholder model.”
“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.”
As Dourado points out, “note the four classes of stakeholders.” They were chosen this way to avoid governments having too much power. Except that certain countries are using these various international gatherings to try to change the meaning of “multi-stakeholder” to basically minimize everyone but government, while still pretending to support the concept.
Authoritarian governments have been quick to remind the world that they are stakeholders, too. Since the Tunis Agenda urges all stakeholders to work together “in their respective roles,” the most illiberal countries have simply argued that national governments should have the biggest and most pre-eminent roles, while other stakeholders should have smaller subordinate ones. Russia in particular is aggressively pushing this definition for the role of governments. Its proposed edits to the multi-stakeholder opinion invites member states “to exercise their rights on Internet Governance … at the national level,” by which it means that national governments should preempt ICANN.
In other words, Russia — and its allies like China and Saudi Arabia — are adopting the language of multi-stakeholderism to support something rather like its opposite. The position they are advancing is virtually indistinguishable from one which accords no role to other stakeholders.
Dourado also points out that having governments make decisions on internet governance is a recipe for disaster in a number of ways, including the fact that current internet governance is earned through trust and respect — but governments swooping in don’t seem to care about any of that.
… it is worth reflecting on one fundamental difference between Internet institutions and sovereign governments. In the Internet technical community, authority is earned. Internet institutions have legitimacy because it is freely given by a wide array of stakeholders. For example, the non-governmental Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) maintains and develops the core technical standards that are the sine qua non of the Internet. People are free to disobey the recommendations issued by the IETF, but they usually follow them because it has earned its authority through competence, transparency, and inclusiveness. The system of state sovereignty is at odds with the earned authority of Internet institutions. Governments punish their subjects for failing to comply with their orders, and they do not accept challenges to their territorial authority. Governmental authority is not earned; it is imposed.
Neither the authoritarian regimes nor the ITU seem genuinely invested in earning the authority they are eager to assert on the Internet. Instead, they are using the vagueness of the nominal consensus on the multi-stakeholder model as cover to impose authority.