Internet Governance and Governments: A Push for More Control at the UN

by on December 5, 2008 · 17 comments

The 3rd meeting of the United Nation’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) met this week in Hyderabad, India. One of the concerning takeaways is the increased posturing by governments to assert greater control over  the Internet.

For the uninitiated, the IGF is an outgrowth of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), and is meant to be a multi-stakeholder “talk shop” on public policy issues related to the development and governance of the Internet. It’s the forum for governments and social policy agendas, whereas ICANN is meant to be a technical body for coordinating the Internet’s naming system.

The U.S. had advocated for a minimal role for the United Nations and IGF, while many governments want to assert more control then they possess at ICANN. A compromise was struck at the final WSIS meeting in Tunis – “Enhanced Cooperation” – in order to defer choosing between existing or new mechanisms.

As my colleague Steve DelBianco describes it, it’s sort of like the way he handled his teenage son when he nagged him about getting a new car to drive:  work on ‘Enhanced Transportation’ instead.

Steve and NetChoice work to avoid a new mechanism for Internet Governance that’s designed by, and for, governments. Instead, preferring on Enhanced Cooperation within existing mechanisms.

Yet there’s danger on the horizon. My colleague Mark Blafkin reports in this blog post that at the Hyderabad meeting, politicians were spouting populist rhetoric about returning control of the Internet to “the people.”

Everton Lucero, the Brazilian representative to ICANN’s Government Advisory Council (GAC) delivered a beautiful speech filled with inspiring rhetoric about returning Internet Governance back to the concept of “We the People” and taking the power out of the hands of the “nobles and landlords.”  Unfortunately, that is all it was: a beautiful speech that ignored reality in an attempt to grab the power to control the Internet and censor content. Brazil’s government has shown an increasing distaste for Freedom of Speech, especially on the Internet.  The government had a recent documentary exposing some of the most egregious efforts at political censorship of the press pulled from local television.

Mark also cites info that Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is reportedly planning to use Italy’s upcoming presidency of the G8 Summit to push for an international agreement to “regulate the Internet.”

The ol’ saying that information wants to be free is under duress at the Internet Governance Forum. We’ll have to stay tuned for the meeting next year in Egypt.

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