Cooperation needed to avoid fragmentation of the net, says European Commission
2014 looks like the year when internet governance will be seriously addressed. The European Commission today released a clear position statement that will feed into the various international meetings, panels and commissions launched this year. It clarifies and refines some of the Commission’s long-standing positions, but also identifies interesting new elements worth noting.
Unsurprisingly, the Communication reaffirms more strongly than ever the European Commission’s support for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and a multi-stakeholder approach to internet governance issues, albeit with documented demands to further strengthen transparency, inclusiveness and accountability. Many stakeholders will agree. Likewise, its support for “the establishment of a coherent set of global internet governance principles” will be music to the ears of the Brazilian authorities and their co-hosts, who have made this a key topic of the NetMundial meeting that will take place in April in São Paulo. In both cases however, the devil will be in the details.
The “globalisation of ICANN and in particular the IANA function,” formerly a quasi-taboo subject, is now clearly on the agenda after the Montevideo Declaration. The European Commission has long argued in favour of such an evolution and naturally intends to be part of the discussion. This is a highly symbolic political issue - more than an operational concern. Still, practical steps are possible and numerous groups are currently exploring options. What is needed now is a fact-based, global public interest-oriented discussion to explore and define reasonable evolutions acceptable to all.
The most original part of the contribution however is its emphasis on the risks of fragmentation of the internet due to the proliferation of conflicts of laws in these shared online spaces. Highlighting that “not one single mechanism” can address the different types of “tensions between an international internet and national jurisdictions,” the European Commission will engage with stakeholders to “facilitate issue-based multi-stakeholder dialogue and decision-making across boundaries.” I, of course, could not agree more.