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European Commission declares itself an “Honest broker in future global negotiations on Internet Governance”

WSIS/Internet Governance

For more than a decade there has been active resistance in some quarters to the continuing custody by the U.S. of the root domain registries of the Internet. Those directories (which control the routing of Internet traffic into and out of nations) are administered by ICANN, which in turn exists under the authority of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Today, Neelie Kroes, the strong-willed European Commission Vice-President in charge of the E.C.’s Digital Agenda, has put the question of “Internet Governance” (read: control of these registries) back into the news. Specifically, Kroes announced in a press release that the Commission will pursue a “role as honest broker in future global negotiations on Internet Governance.”

While the press refers to “reduced trust” in the Internet as a result of the disclosure of NSA surveillance activities, today’s announcement is in fact a continuation of an effort on the part of the EU nations (among others) that has simmered, and occasionally boiled over, for many years. It first reached a crescendo in 2005 in connection with the convening of a global, UN sponsored “World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).” Part of the outcome of that meeting was the creation of a Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), and in September of 2005, the EU (and UK) broke ranks with the U.S., coming out in support of a new global body to control what had by then come to be referred to as “Internet Governance.”

With the creation of the powerless WGIG, however, the energy behind the issue partially abated. Indeed, pressure on the U.S. was partially deflected most recently to the ITU, which has been engaging in its own perennial effort to take control of aspects of the Internet. Due to fears that the ITU might be unduly influenced by less than ideal stewards of a free Internet (like China), U.S. control for the time being seemed like the lesser of two evils if these were the only two choices available.

Now, however, disclosures of the NSA’s international surveillance activities have put the U.S. back on the defensive. Concerns over the U.S.’s continuing role were highlighted in the release in October of last year of the Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation by the ten organizations responsible for responsible for global coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure, including the IETF, W3C and (surprisingly) ICANN itself. In that statement, the signatories “called for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.” (IANA - the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority – is part of ICANN, and is responsible for the global coordination of the DNS Root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources.)

Now the EC, it seems, has decided to declare itself the middle man in pursuing this goal, referring to the next two years as being “critical in redrawing the global map of Internet governance,” and stating that “Europe must play a strong role in defining what the net of the future looks like.” The press release goes on to propose “concrete actions,” including “[e]stablishment of a clear timeline for the globalisation of ICANN and the ‘IANA functions’” The press release goes on to make a variety of other proposals, most of which are high level than specific (e.g., “a strengthening of the global Internet Governance Forum” and “an ongoing commitment to improve the transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of the multi-stakeholder processes and those who participate in these processes).”

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Significantly, the press release also allocates a paragraph to making it clear that the EC’s announcement should not be read as a decision to roll out the red carpet to the ITU, quoting Vice-President Kroes as follows:

Some are calling for the International Telecommunications Union to take control of key Internet functions. I agree that governments have a crucial role to play, but top-down approaches are not the right answer. We must strengthen the multi-stakeholder model to preserve the Internet as a fast engine for innovation.

Instead, it states that, “The Commission firmly supports a real multi-stakeholder governance model for the Internet based on the full involvement of all relevant actors and organisations.”

Regarding what will happen next, the press release declares that:

Today's Communication is a foundation for a common European approach in global negotiations, such as the Netmundial meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil (April 2014), the Internet Governance Forum (end-August) and the High Level ICANN meeting. This approach will be further developed with the European Parliament and the Council.

Whether the EC’s self-asserted role as an “honest broker” will be welcomed by other critics of the current U.S. role - and whether the EC in fact will be viewed by other stakeholders as being neutral and disinterested  - will remain to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether this latest statement by the E.C. will prove to be more consequential than its several, previous calls to globalize Internet governance.  What can be assured, however, is that the disclosures by Edward Snowden will make it more difficult than in the past for the U.S. to claim that the keys to the Internet are better off in American hands than in those of an independent global authority.

Finally, there is this question: will the U.S. be better off or worse as a result of this announcement? That will depend on whether the E.C.’s statement has been motivated purely by self-interest, or whether it is at least in part the result of back-channel discussions between the U.S. and the E.C. Given the widespread ire that the NSA disclosures aroused in Europe and the sparring regarding technology-related issues that has been a feature of the current TTIP negotiations, the former would seem to be a far more likely conclusion than the latter.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see whether the U.S. Department makes a statement in response to the E.C.’s announcement, and what, if anything, can be read between its lines.

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European Commission declares itself an “Honest broker in future global negotiations on Internet Governance” | 6 comments | Create New Account
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EC an Honest broker?
Authored by: minrich on Thursday, February 13 2014 @ 08:25 PM CST

 I guess its all in one's perspective - much as I appreciate most of Nellie Kroes moves, I still can't but feel that the EC as a whole are not democratically elected or representative.

  PS. Did you intend to repeat the first paragraph of this article for emphasis?   Cheers minrich
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Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Friday, February 14 2014 @ 05:23 AM CST

I'm intrigued by your comment on the nature of Kroes' authority.  Do you think that the system whereby representatives to the EU are elected is fundamentally undemocratic?


PS:  No, I didn't mean to repeat it (how embarassing...)


  - Andy

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