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.

1 Comment

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Francesca Musiani

12 February, 2014 - 17:47

I agree with Bertrand. The EC issues a statement which I expect will be widely agreed upon by everybody (except the US. ;))

After the Snowden revelations and in light of the most recent initiatives in the field of Internet Governance (the Brazilian meeting and its manifold committees, but also the establishment of the Global Commission on Internet Governance), this is certainly a way for Europe to re-legitimize itself as a protector of its citizens and their personal data, and a way to put distance between itself and the Snowden-revealed pervasive surveillance by the US.

Coupled with the explicit mention of the "globalisation of ICANN and IANA" as a near-future objective, I guess we can hail this communiqué as a symbolic "Declaration of independence" from the US ally in IG matters. But as several times before, we'll have to observe the "nitty-gritty consequences" (if any).

P.S.: I find it ironic that the first line of the press release speaks of "reduced trust in the Internet." The public has not reduced its trust in the Internet. It has reduced its trust in (several of the) entities who govern it, be it with the writ, the wrench or a mix of both. Any institution of Internet governance would do well to take that into account... including the EC.

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