[discuss] ICANN policy and "Internet Governance"

Jeremy Malcolm jeremy at ciroap.org
Sun Jan 5 10:22:46 UTC 2014

On 3 Jan 2014, at 9:38 pm, Andrew Sullivan <ajs at anvilwalrusden.com> wrote:

> Finally, the actions of national intelligence services (including but
> certainly not limited to the NSA) are, I submit, not "Internet" issues
> at all, but international government issues in the simplest sense.
> This is what diplomatic channels are for.  The US or Chinese effects
> on Internet traffic (to pick two cases we definitely know about)
> subvert apparently innocent international or domestic communications
> of other countries' citizens.  Why does this need a special forum?
> You'll note I keep asking why above.  This is the same question I've
> asked before: what problem is some new body supposed to be solving
> that isn't already covered?

Short answer: if you are completely happy with the status quo, then there is no reason for a new body or forum.  But if you don't think that Internet-related public policies are currently developed in a way that gives voice to all those affected by those policies, then there is.

Longer answer, explaining why the latter is the case:

Subject to international human rights law, governments have no democratic responsibility to take account of the interests of non-citizens, as the NSA affair vividly illustrates.  And even when acting together through intergovernmental organisations, they are still representing the international interests of citizens of states.  So (even assuming away the democratic deficits that exist at the international level, and the lack of enforcement mechanisms), governments still have no responsibility to take account of the interests of members of transnational communities.

That's just one reason why the existing international system of states is not adequate to develop public policies for the Internet.  But it is not a solution to just leave public policy development to the technical community or the private sector, because they are still less representative of the interests of all those affected by the policies they develop.  Rather, we also need to further democratise international public policy making, by ensuring that all perspectives, including those of the stakeholder groups mentioned, but also including interests that none of those groups can represent, can be voiced.  We do this through multi-stakeholderism.  And from the foregoing, the important role of civil society in multi-stakeholder processes should be obvious.

Less theoretically, we can point to particular processes that affect Internet users, but are deficient in terms of process because they do not represent the interests of all those affected.  Some of these are intergovernmental (like the TPP), some are private (like the policies of Google, Facebook, Paypal, etc).  So a practical need for a global body or process is to create an overarching framework of consensual, human-rights based substantive and procedural principles that can guide governance processes (whether public or private) that take place elsewhere, to make those processes are more democratic than they are now.

This is just in a nutshell.  I've written in much more depth about this elsewhere and can point you to more extended treatments if you are interested.

Dr Jeremy Malcolm
Senior Policy Officer
Consumers International | the global campaigning voice for consumers
Office for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East
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