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Challenges for multi-stakeholder Internet governance

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Multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet faces challenges caused by the network's expansion and deeper global penetration, panelists said during a May 23 discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Apart from governments that feel – rightly or wrongly – that a free Internet poses an existential threat, the recent past also brought the emergence of countries such as Brazil and India that "feel rather acutely that they don't have nearly as much influence in terms of how the Internet may evolve as their position in the world entitles them to," said Phil Verveer, who until January spent more than three years as the State Department coordinator for international communications and information policy.

Those are countries that also have a strong preference for bringing issues to the United Nations, Verveer said. The role of the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency, in Internet governance is the subject of controversy and led to a contentious December 2012 conference that resulted in many Western nations refusing to sign an updated treaty governing international telecommunication interoperability and charging principles.

Among the issues causing the conference rift was language calling on states "to take necessary measures to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic communication."

Nobody likes spam, but anytime you discuss it, "you're discussing content," said Laura DeNardis, an American University associate professor who studies Internet governance. "When you think about how you enforce something like [anti-] spam in a centralized way…you have to do deep packet inspection and inspect the content," she said.

Nothing already prevents countries from inspecting and censoring Internet content, as other observers have pointed out, but many free Internet proponents have nonetheless said that international and institutional recognition of censorship would set a bad precedent.

The United States and other Western countries hew to 2011 principles (.pdf) developed in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, but the United States shouldn't expect automatic wider adoption of the OECD principles, said Jane Coffin, director for development strategy at the Internet Society. Developing countries "didn't create them, have a role in making them, so why would they adopt them? We have to help them work through that," she said.

International discussion about Internet governance isn't always about the Internet per se, DeNardis said. Rather, governance conflicts "are the new space in the 21st century where economic and political power is unfolding" and so sometimes are a proxy for other conflicts.

For more:
go to the CSIS event webpage (archived webcast available)

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