The IANA Stewardship Transition was a major catalyst for change. Today, ICANN’s mission and core values have been clarified, and any lingering ambiguities about them have been removed, says ICANN CEO Göran Marby.
The Digital Post: After the contract with the US government expired on Oct. 1, how exactly will ICANN make sure it is accountable to the international multi-stakeholder community?
Göran Marby: Ensuring a strong governance structure and an appropriate number of checks and balances within ICANN was a critical aspect of the transition process.
To replace the U.S. Government’s oversight role, the ICANN community created new powers to hold ICANN the organization and the Board of Directors accountable to the global community of stakeholders. Some of these new powers include rejecting operating plans and budgets, approving or rejecting changes to the Bylaws, removing individual ICANN Board directors, and even the power to recall the entire ICANN Board.
The ICANN community also created a more mature and expanded system, where complaints will be handled more transparently and efficiently. ICANN’s Request for Reconsideration and Independent Review processes are now stronger, which empowers the global community to have a direct line of recourse if they disagree with decisions made by the organization or the Board.
It’s important to note that ICANN is continuously working on enhancing our accountability and transparency with the global community. Since ICANN’s inception in 1998, several accountability reforms have taken place. The first major reform, which was known as the ‘Evolution and Reform Process,’ took place in 2002. Two other reforms occurred in 2010 and 2013.
The IANA Stewardship Transition was a major catalyst for change. Today, ICANN’s mission and core values have been clarified, and any lingering ambiguities about them have been removed. There is now no more disagreement on what ICANN’s mission means, and the scope of the organization’s responsibilities are clear. As CEO my team and I are committed to living up to our mission and work day in, day out to be accountable to our community and through ever increasing transparency show what we are doing.
TDP: Critics continue to argue that the end of US oversight over IANA will pave the way for authoritarian regimes to be able to exercise greater control over the Internet. Is that true?
GM: Absolutely not. In this post-IANA Stewardship Transition environment, there is nothing that increases the role of governments over the Domain Name System (DNS) or ICANN as an organization.
ICANN’s multistakeholder model is designed to ensure that no single entity, whether it be a government, business or other interest group, can capture ICANN or exclude other parties from the decision-making processes.
Features of this model include open processes where anyone can participate, decisions are made by consensus, there are established appeals mechanisms, and a system of transparent and public meetings to discuss policy. But it’s also important to remember that everyone, governments included have a place at ICANN. All voices and stakeholders are welcome in our multistakeholder way of working.
These elements have all been reinforced by the transition, truly evolving ICANN into a more internationally distributed entity, which is accountable to a global community that includes a diverse group of stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds and affiliations.
TDP: Since the WCIT-12 ended in “acrimony,” the issue of who should have policy responsibility for ICANN’s role on the Critical Internet Infrastructure has regularly resurfaced both in the ITU and in the UN CSTD process on “Enhanced Cooperation” . What is your view?
GM: To be clear, the WCIT-12 was not about control of the Internet or of ICANN. It is true there was some debate about the role of ICANN and whether the UN should facilitate Internet governance policy discussions. However, ICANN’s multistakeholder approach for Internet governance was positively recognized by the UN at the WSIS+10 Review discussions at the UNGA in December 2015. Today, with the completion of the IANA Stewardship Transition and removal of the special symbolic role represented historically by the U.S. Government, we have eliminated the leverage used in international debates by some who favour UN facilitation of Internet governance discussions.
It should be understood that ICANN does cooperate with the ITU on several different issues, such as in the WSIS Working Group, at the WSIS forum and in the Open Consultation on Internet policy issues. We are also engaged in the UN CSTD process on “Enhanced Cooperation,” which I am confident will recognize the contribution all stakeholders make on matters of Internet governance.
TDP: In-spite of the efforts made by former European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, the impression is that the EU has seemingly shown not enough commitment, unity and leadership on Internet Governance and ICANN related issues. What is your opinion?
GM: European efforts on Internet governance have increased over the past few years – the IANA Stewardship Transition process was a good demonstration of that. Overall, European governments were heavily engaged in the discussions throughout the process, provided constructive input, and worked in concert with each other. On several issues, their voices were pivotal to finding consensus at the global level.
What’s even more remarkable in regards to Europe’s role in the IANA Stewardship Transition was the huge part played by European stakeholders. Whether they were country code domain registries, NGOs, academics or representatives of the wider business and technical community, Europeans made up roughly 30% of the hundreds of participants involved in the transition discussions.
European stakeholders also held many key leadership positions, and showed that Europe has an important place at the table when shaping ICANN’s future. As with all regions, we hope European stakeholders will continue to grow their involvement at ICANN and in Internet governance issues.
TDP: ICANN plays an important role in bodies such as OECD, ITU and IGF; how do you see this evolving post IANA Transition?
GM: While vitally important for the relationships and management of ICANN, the IANA Stewardship Transition by no means signals that ICANN will change its involvement in broader dialogues on Internet policy issues. ICANN will continue to play its part in international discussions, but to be clear, as it is in line with its mission and bylaws.
We will continue to engage with our partners in the technical community and international bodies such as the ITU, the OECD (where we are Observers on their main Digital Policy Committee), the IGF (which we have supported since its inception in 2005), the Council of Europe and the International Organization of Francophonie.
Picture credit: Dicemanic
Will large emerging countries manage to reshape internet governance around their national interests? One thing is sure: tomorrow’s internet will not resemble today’s.
In recent years, global issues connected to the internet and its uses have vaulted into the highest realm of high politics. Among these issues internet governance is now one of the most lively and important topics in international relations.
It has long been ignored and restricted to small silos of experts; however, the leaks disclosed by Edward Snowden on large-scale electronic surveillance implemented by US intelligence agencies triggered a massive response to the historical “stewardship” of the internet by the United States.
Not surprisingly, the stakes are high: today 2.5 billion people are connected to the internet, and by 2030, the digital economy is likely to represent 20% of the world’s GDP. In emerging countries, the digital economy is growing from 15% to 25% every year.
Studies evoke 50 even 80 billion connected “things” by 2020. Beyond mere figures, internet governance sharpens everyone’s appetite – from big corporations to governments – for the internet has taken up such a place in our lives and touches on so many issues, such as freedom of expression to privacy, intellectual property rights, and national security.
It is worth underlining that the issue is particularly complex. For some, the governance of the internet should respect free market rules – a deregulated vision carried by the Clinton-Gore administration in the 1990s –, or remain self-regulated by techno-scientist communities as conceived of by libertarian internet pioneers.
For others, the advent of the internet in the area of law-making implies a return to the old rules and instruments, but this would mean putting aside the mutations produced by its practices, most importantly the expansion of expression and participation. For others, again, the ultimate legitimization would consist in adopting a Constitution or a Treaty of the internet which would elevate its governance to the global level.
De-Westernizing the internet?
A number of countries have criticized American “hegemony” over the internet (infrastructure, “critical resources” such as protocols, the domain names system, normative influence, etc.). To a large extent, the internet is the ambivalent product of American culture and the expression of its universalist and expansionist ideology.
As U.S. policymakers emphasized the importance of winning the battle of ideas both during the Cold War and in the post-2001 period, the ability to transmit America’s soft power via communications networks has been perceived as vital.
Consequently, in recent years, particularly since the Arab uprisings, governments around the world have become more alert to the disruptive potential of access to digital communications. Demographic factors are also behind calls for change: over the next decade, the internet’s centre of gravity will have moved eastwards.
Already in 2012, 66% of the world’s internet users lived in the non-Western world. However, the reasons for questioning the U.S.’s supremacy also lie in these countries’ defiance of the current internet governance system, which is accused of favoring the sole interests of the U.S.
While critical of the status quo, large emerging countries do not constitute a homogeneous block. Back in December 2012 in Dubai, when the Treaty to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) was closely negotiated, some countries such as India, the Philippines and Kenya had rallied behind the U.S.
The Dubai negotiations nevertheless showed that these “swing states” – countries that have not decided which vision for the future of the internet they will support – are increasingly asserting their vision in order to get things moving.
Placed under the auspices of the United Nations-led International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Dubai meeting therefore served as a powerful tribune to both contest American preeminence and call for multilateral internet governance.
More fundamentally, these tensions reflect another conception of the internet, which lays on a double foundation: on the national level, the claim that states have sovereign power over the management of the internet; and on the international level, the preeminence of states over other stakeholders, and the notion of intergovernmental cooperation to debate internet governance.
To this end, the arguments developed fit into a geostrategic context which has been reshaped by the emergence of new poles of influence. They are aimed at making the internet an instrument of both the domestic and foreign policies of one country. The preservation of state order, the fight against cybercrime, and the defense of commercial interests are several illustrations of elements that can be used to justify and advance the questioning of the current system.
China, given its demographic, economic and technological weight, is emblematic of the current “game”. Overall, China has sought to adopt a pragmatic approach: if Beijing does not agree with the concept of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) – the so-called “multi-stakeholder” principle would not guarantee an equal representation between the different stakeholders and regions of the world. It nevertheless integrated ICANN’s Governments Advisory Committee in 2009, and is now very active in promoting its own standards within the organizations where technical norms are negotiated.
Russia, for its part, has put forward several initiatives at the U.N. over the last fifteen years – all of which have built upon a firm opposition to the U.S. and have defended a neo-Hobbesian vision in which security considerations and the legitimacy of states to ensure their digital/information sovereignty play a critical role. Moscow has thus been active within U.N. intergovernmental agencies such as ITU, and regional ones such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the BRICS forum.
And then came Snowden
The stances taken by emerging countries unsurprisingly found favorable echoes after Edward Snowden’s revelations in June 2013. If Russia opportunely stood out by granting asylum to Snowden, Brazil promptly expressed its dissatisfaction.
President Dilma Rousseff, herself a victim of NSA wiretapping, took the lead of a virtuous crusade against the status quo: with the loss of the U.S.’s moral leadership, their stewardship over the agencies which manage the Internet is less tolerated. At the U.N. General Assembly, Rousseff somewhat aggressively criticized Washington, as such showing a will to federate emancipation towards the U.S. dependency.
Brasilia then intensified its diplomatic offensive by announcing an international summit on Internet governance – called NETmundial – to take place in April 2014 in Sao Paulo. In the meantime, Brazilian authorities promulgated the Marco Civil bill, a sort of Internet Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression, protection of privacy and net neutrality. Is the Brazilian stance in a post-Snowden context purely opportunistic?
Interestingly, Brazil appears to be taking the middle ground between the two governance “models” that have been under discussion so far – the multi-stakeholders and the multilateral – in a context where the Europeans have stepped aside.
Since the first World Summit for Information Society (WSIS) in 2005 Brasilia has been promoting free software and advancing a global internet governance model based on its own domestic model. Rousseff’s words fit into a long-term perspective, which sees in the opening of a new international scene – the Web – an opportunity to take the international lead, after the relative failures of former President Lula to position Brazil on international security issues.
The world is not flat
Will large emerging countries manage to reshape internet governance around their national interests? In the shift that was the last ITU’s WCIT meeting in Dubai in December 2012, the excessively polarized debates between self-proclaimed partisans of an “open and free” internet and the supporters of a governance resting on territorial sovereignty sparked off a strained discourse over a “digital Cold War” preceding an “internet Yalta”.
Since Snowden’s revelations emerged, the American reaction has particularly focused on storytelling: since states around the world question the U.S. oversight over the internet, it is because they want to fragment and “balkanize” the global internet – a discourse largely passed on by U.S. Net giants.
Well, the commercial strategies of the major internet companies themselves tend to intensify the fragmentation of online public spaces by creating distortions in internet users’ access to information and content sharing, that is to say by reducing both the openness and pluralism that have made the internet a great social value.
Here lies a powerful engine for contest, as it has been recently the case in Western Europe. Borders do reappear where they were not necessarily expected: Google, Apple or Amazon are building their own ecosystem, from which it is becoming hard to get out.
One thing is sure: tomorrow’s internet will not resemble today’s. Already the power of search engines diminishes the importance of the domain names system; cloud computing, the Internet of things and the spread of mobile internet are starting to radically transform practices and produce new complexities with regards to the internet’s outline and governance.
It is also certain that the situation will remain at a dead end if the two broad and opposed conceptions of the internet persist: a new space of freedom or a new instrument of control.
Photo credit: Paul Downey
There is a need for leadership on the highest political levels to curb a worrying trend towards limiting the open internet, seeking to use internet for intelligence gathering, or for repressing dissent, argues Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake
2015 seems to be a key year for a long-awaited (and long discussed) “reform” of Internet Governance. What are your predictions?
Indeed it will be an important year for internet governance. However, for me internet governance is more than just the scope of responsibilities and procedures in international organizations such as ICANN, WCIT and the IGF.
The broad goals of ensuring the internet remains open and that people´s human rights and fundamental freedoms apply also online, is influenced by decisions made by states and companies every day.
I see a worrying trend towards limiting the open internet, seeking to use internet for intelligence gathering, or for repressing dissent. There is a need for leadership on the highest political levels to curb this trend.
What should be the role of the EU?
[Tweet “The EU should develop a more coherent agenda with regard to internet governance.”]
This means diplomats from the European External Action Service, and Ministers and diplomats from Member States to better understand technology and how it works, and most importantly to push an ambitious agenda.
Civil society organizations and experts can help ensure there is sufficient knowledge, and connection to the various stakeholders.
Is Europe contributing enough to the global debate on Internet Governance?
I believe the EU can and should do more in showing leadership. After the credibility of the United States was hurt by the NSA revelations, the internet freedom agenda should be adopted by the EU, and given more meaning.
We have a historic sense of protecting people from an over reaching state, and need to show leadership in human rights online globally, as we have done with a human rights agenda in the past.
We should work with the US to restore trust and to work along a shared agenda. There are plenty of developing economies that we may consider as ´swing states´ in terms of seeking to pursue top-down governance, or to choose a forward looking internet governance agenda that puts human rights online in the centre.
What initiatives do you expect from the new European Commission?
I will continue to push for better coordination between different Commissioners, and with Member States, in developing a future proof en ambitious internet governance agenda.
Do you think the way ICANN is adjusting its governance is responding to current concerns about Internet Governance?
We have to give it a fair chance. It would be a real improvement if the multi-stakeholder model actually succeeds and further develops. Dominance of any one significant player should be avoided, and that included the United States.
At the same time, fundamental principles and values must be ensured. I will observe and evaluate the impact with great interest, also as a member of the Global Commission on Internet Governance.
How to reconcile the tension between current IG, led by nongovernmental players, and increasing demands for a stronger role for governments? How big is the risk that governments, notably from non-liberal (or undemocratic) countries, could use the current transition to take over more powers over the Internet?
Actually, governments do not depend on internet governance platforms. They can adopt laws without input from multiple stakeholders, while impacting many of them. We see this happening every day. What some of these governments with repressive agenda´s seek, is legitimacy to do what they are already doing.
The transition to more global governance was needed, and should be considered an opportunity to create a more shared responsibility globally. Given the strong interlinkage between economic interests and the open internet, we must seek…
[Tweet “…to convince as many people as possible that repression and fragmentation is a boomerang.”]
I also worry about the role of major companies and significant market players, that put commercial interests above all else, and at the expense of the open internet and its users.
We must ensure that as the internet is to a large extent dependent on private actors, that there is sufficient oversight. I would ideally like to see an internet governance system based on democratic values globally.
photo credits: Dennis Skley / www.marietjeschaake.eu
This could be a critical year for the governance of the Internet. A plan for transferring the US stewardship of the IANA functions to the global community is expected to come to life by next September. Post-WCIT tensions over the role of countries in managing the web may come to a showdown at the WSIS+10 high-level conference to be held next December in New York.
And while the UN General Assembly is likely to extend the mandate of the IGF, an essential platform for policy dialogue, many other Internet Governance issues such as privacy, cybersecurity and net neutrality will be debated more than ever in countless international venues. If it wants to carry some weight with the Internet “big game”, Europe cannot afford to play with 28 different national teams. It should speak with one voice out of a clear and bold vision.
Unfortunately, there are few signs that this will occur. In the past years Member states have relegated the issue of Internet Governance to a bunch of working documents and non-binding declarations. They haven’t gone beyond agreeing on a set of vague principles and have widely disregarded the European Commission’s pleas for more common action.
Such disengagement conceals the will to keep a free hand on the issue, highlighting different national stances. For instance, France and Germany are seemingly inclined to favour a more intergovernamental approach in the future governance of the Internet, whereas other EU countries are far more cautious fearing this could give more (legal) legitimacy to non liberal states’ attempts at censuring the web.
Nonetheless, a reasonable compromise would not be that difficult. Last year, the European Commission presented an ambitious political document on Internet Governance that could serve as a basis for further negotiations. Likewise, the European Parliament outlined his position in a number of non-binding resolutions.
Europe has still a great chance to be a protagonist of the current transition if it is willing to set aside ineffective national interests and develop a long-term and common strategy. But it should hurry.