The risk of Internet fragmentation lies more and more with approaches which would have the effect of forcing data (and thus, information and communications) to remain within a particular country or territory, says Jean-Jacques Sahel, Vice-President, Europe (Global Stakeholder Engagement) of ICANN.
The Digital Post: How does the multistakeholder model work in practice, and how does it apply to the stewardship of the IANA functions in the framework of the new status of ICANN?
Jean-Jacques Sahel: The multistakeholder model, put simply, is when you are trying to develop policies or procedures around a specific issue and you involve in the process all the relevant actors associated with it, including those who are able to influence it or those who might be impacted by it.
Ever since ICANN was created, in 1998, the US government expressed the will of handing the IANA functions oversight over to the international community. But it took longer than expected for a number of reasons. At the same time, international attention was growing: people started to realize the importance of the Internet and some questioned why the US had this sole role.
That said, the time between our inception and when the IANA Stewardship transition took place, actually allowed for ICANN and the international multistakeholder community to mature slowly and effectively. After nearly 18 years, we have now a very stable mechanism and strong expertise which can work well independently, without US Government oversight.
TDP: Maybe the Snowden revelations had a role in accelerating the transition?
JJS: That’s what some people have said. In my view, the transition is the result of a combination of several factors. It wasn’t a breakthrough, because we knew it was supposed to happen. It was a natural evolution. In any case, it was an impressive and historical step on a very sensitive issue.
What was impressive as well was the entire process. What we call the multistakeholder process. This involved a global consultation with working groups that were made up of several hundred people from all over the world. Completely different stakeholder groups were involved, many of them not used to responding to consultations or doing international negotiations, etc. We managed an institutional reform that was unprecedented within barely two years.
I also want to draw your attention here to a very important fact, that this continuous evolution is inbuilt within ICANN. We have continuously worked on improving our accountability, which resulted in ICANN undergoing several reforms, specifically three major ones since inception in 1998. We’re proud to be an international institution that put so many efforts at improving, evolving, and reforming itself in that short space of time.
TDP: Why is it better that key internet functions are governed by a multistakeholder model, instead of a multilateral (i.e. only governments) model?
JJS: It’s been the way since we began. This environment allows for the Internet to flourish reflecting the diversity in voices from different regions and stakeholders. For me, the multistakeholder model brings the diversity, and allows us to be transparent which in turn makes us accountable. Our process is based on wide consensus, which implies that completely different stakeholders should agree with each other. I think that in itself brings accountability. The other thing, of course, is the expertise that the multistakeholder model brings in.
TDP: What are the main risks that could threaten the good functioning of internet governance in the following years?
JJS: What is worrisome is the risk of fragmentation. This may not happen automatically, say, with a country that breaks away from the Internet and creates its own internet. No, it may be more about the risk of approaches being taken at national or regional level, for a number of motives, which would have the effect of forcing data, (and thus, information and communications) to remain within a particular country or territory, thus limiting the vast potential benefits that the global nature of the Internet offers in the right environment. We need to remember that the Internet is overwhelmingly a force for good, and we need to work hard to harness it for the benefit of our economies, our societies, and us as individuals. That’s what I work towards through my role at ICANN.
Picture credit: Paul Coyne