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Insights into Issues: Internet Governance



Insights into Issues: Internet Governance


The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in a meeting at Marrakesh (Morocco) decided that the ICANN will now be governed by a “multi-stakeholder” (multistakeholder ICANN community) model, including businesses, individual users and members of governments across the world. Since this group elects ICANN’s board of directors in the first place, it can be said that ICANN will now be an independent organisation, with no external oversight.


ICANN and its present governance architecture

  • It is a non-profit body founded in 1998 that administrates domain names and Internet protocol addresses (IPs) globally.
  • ICANN has been assigned the task to manage Internet by the US Commerce Department’s National
  • Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) under a contract, which expires on September 30.
  • IANA (the Internet Assigned Names Authority, the part of ICANN that handles country codes, Internet
  • numbers and protocols) then went on being part of ICANN, despite concerns raised by a number of countriesover the US’s stranglehold over the Internet.
  • ICANN’s architecture renders it answerable only to U.S. law and courts.
  • The main issue that non-U.S. actors have with the U.S. control over ICANN is that it can unilaterally interfere with the ICANN’s policy process, and the Internet’s root server


Why the debate:

  • Controversial US practices such as snooping on foreign leaders, as revealed in Wikileaks
  • Allegations that ICANN, though a transnational body functions under the supervision of Department of Commerce with which it has contract
  • A broader debate on internet governance touches the topics of cyber security, trade secrecy, freedom of expression and sovereignty


What is Internet Governance

In 2005, UN sponsored World Summit on Information Society defined Internet Governance as – “development and application of rules, norms, principles, practices by govt, civil society, business, each within its own respective role, to enable the evolution and use of internet”.


It encompasses

  • Technical aspects such as control over DNS servers etc
  • Civil aspects such as privacy, freedom of expression etc
  • Political aspects such as maintenance of sovereignty
  • Security aspects such as data security, cyber security etc


Problem with ICANN’s role currently:

  • It is transnational but not global in its current avtar
  • It is dominated by non state actors which is hugely problematic for countries like China, Russia etc which are trying to maintain state control over the internet
  • It is one of the few centralized points of control over the internet
  • It is overseen by US


Assessment of various models for Internet Governance:

  • Model 1 – Oversight by an intergovernmental organization (proposed by International Telecommunication Union). It replaces US control over IANA with an organization composed of the nation state representatives from countries around the world. This is supported by China, Russia etc
    • Pros
      • Democratizes the oversight mechanism as all countries would be represented in the policy formulation
      • Gives nation state the power to enforce public policy
      • Curtails the power of non state actors to influence policy decisions thereby curbing misuse by vested private interests
      • Making use of international law to produce accountability. Currently US laws apply over ICANN . Replacing oversight over ICANN by intergovernmental organization would enable international law duly formulated to extend control
    • Cons
      • Erosion of the bottom up process on which the internet has been built and flourished so far. In international arena, states are more guided by maintaining security and sovereignty as opposed to protection of the interests of the citizens
      • All nation states are not democratically elected
      • International law would also give primacy to national security and sovereignty as opposed to interests of the people
      • Involvement of nation states would mean involvement of bureaucracy thereby slowing down the decision making process which is dangerous for the growth of flexible, fast changing contours of the net
      • Promotion of vested business interests by nation states. Eg. Ethiopia had banned VoIP services to maintain monopoly of state owner telecom company
      • Fragmentation of global internet in accordance with national interests
    • Model 2 – Hierarchical Multi Stakeholder Organization. In this model, there will be involvement of all stakeholders as identified by the Tunis Agenda such as Civil Society, Private Sector, Intergovernmental and International Organization & Technical and Advisory groups in policy discussions. The recommendations will be included in policy formulation by committee of nation states which are geographically representative
      • Pros
        • Strengthens bottom up process of internet agenda by giving voice to multiple stakeholders
        • Control on unlimited power exercised by nation states
        • Most practical form
        • Helpful for flourishing of business etc
      • Cons
        • Problem in recognition of stakeholders
        • Involvement of multiple stakeholders in policy discussion but not decision making would still lead to control of nation states
      • Model 3 – This is the alternative by Internet Governance Forum . It holds that multistakeholderism to be there not just in policy discussions but also in decision making.
        • Pros
          • True multistakeholderism
          • Effective check on nation state’s power
        • Cons
          • Unelected representatives would be involved in decision making
          • It would be difficult to develop consensus
          • For nation state the principle of assisgning votes can one state, one vote. But assigning votes to civil society, private players would be difficult


India’s Stand:

  • India’s proposal is that the Internet should be managed through the multi-stakeholder approach (state centred multistakeholderism and not true multistakeholderism) and the governments should have “supreme right and control” on matters relating to international security.
  • India has described the role of the government as “an important stakeholder” and “a custodian of security” for the global Internet infrastructure
  • India in its submission has said that under the new transition, the body managing the Internet should have“accountability towards governments” in areas where “governments have primary responsibility, such as security and similar public policy concerns”


Assessment of India’s stand:


India’s stand primarily emanates from the concern that control of internet would be hijacked by multinational corporations, especially US based corporations. India fears that with an independent status, ICANN may promote its narrow self interest and commercial pursuits disregarding public good.


However, India’s stand has disappointed the Indian private sector that has led the nations’s  rapid advances in IT sector and the civil society groups which are wary of excessive state control. C. Raja Mohan writes that India is still some steps away from nuancing its position on Internet Governance that is in tune with India’s political values and the aspirations of its flourishing IT sector and concern of civil society groups