There is a real opportunity here to influence the evolution of existing Internet governance arrangements. Last December – in fact at the same time as the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) meeting was taking place in Dubai – the UN General Assembly in New York passed a resolution that set the scene for this, and was actually much more significant for the future of Internet governance than WCIT, although it was overlooked by most.
Invites the Chair of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development to establish a working group on enhanced cooperation to examine the mandate of the World Summit on the Information Society regarding enhanced cooperation as contained in the Tunis Agenda, through seeking, compiling and reviewing inputs from all Member States and all other stakeholders...This resolution didn't come out of the blue; in fact, it has been in train since 2005, in the final output document of the World Summit on the Information Society, the Tunis Agenda.
From the starting point “that there are many cross-cutting international public policy issues that require attention and are not adequately addressed by the current mechanisms,” the Tunis Agenda called for creation of the Internet Governance Forum as a multi-stakeholder discussion forum to address these issues, together with a broader:
“...process towards enhanced cooperation involving all stakeholders, proceeding as quickly as possible and responsive to innovation … [which would] enable governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities, in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, but not in the day-to-day technical and operational matters, that do not impact on international public policy issues.”The need for a concrete proposal
In January this year the chair of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) outlined the process that is already in train to convene a Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation that will help to determine, one way or another, how the enhanced cooperation mandate will be expressed through the evolution of Internet governance arrangements.
The next steps are up to us. Will we participate productively to provide a firmer institutional foundation for the representation of the public interest in global Internet governance arrangements, or will we dig in our heels and insist that those arrangements remain forever stuck in the same mould as in 1998?
An evolutionary extension to existing Internet governance arrangements will, if it is sufficiently deliberative and transparent, expose and eliminate proposals from states that are based upon repression and control, since these would never pass muster in a multi-stakeholder environment – though at the same time, its authority should be limited to the development of principles, rather than their implementation or enforcement.
It may also help preclude the emergence of new exclusionary processes such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership in the future, and even if it doesn't, it will at least drain them of their claimed legitimacy and arm us to defeat them more easily.
For as long as we remain blind to this, rejecting or ignoring proposals for the evolution of Internet governance arrangements on the false assumption that the status quo is sustainable, we risk assuring the International Telecommunications Union's future as the only global body capable of authoritatively developing globally-applicable public policy principles for the Internet.
This blog was first published on Digital Asia News.
Dr Jeremy Malcolm is an Internet and Open Source lawyer, consumer advocate and geek. He is also a senior policy officer at Consumers International and can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.