Overlapping Sets: From Rio to Delhi

The second Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro continued the slow but steady movement to clarify the critical Internet governance issues. The Forum discussed, for the first time, the initial issue that prompted the international focus on Internet governance, critical Internet resources. It also explored the other clusters that had been identified: openness, diversity, access and security and further refined these. But the main result, not as well noticed, is a growing recognition that the key issues have less to do with the clusters than with where they overlap and conflict.

One way to look at this is from set theory. Each of the clusters is a set, which can be looked at by itself, but the sets overlap (what is called conjoint sets in mathematical set theory). Within each set, things are fine. Openness is good, diversity is good, security is good, access is good. Even critical Internet resources, as a cluster, is good. The problem is that when the clusters overlap, there are issues.

Openness is good, but requires a certain amount of anonymity for those using the Internet, both because of privacy concerns and to protect dissidents from governmental control. This is a problem for security, since anonymous participants in chatrooms could be pedophiles, or anonymous e-mailers could be spammers. So, to solve the security problem, you have to restrict openness. Or, put another way, to preserve

Access is good, but when it overlaps with diversity, where non-ASCI addresses might be needed, or tags to allow visually impaired persons to use screen readers, it can be limited. Or if access needs critical Internet resources like fiber optical pipes in order to increase bandwidth and this is connected to the availability of Internet addresses and the extent to which IPv6 is in use, the two need to be seen together.

The Delhi Forum agenda should focus on the issues arising from the overlaps in the set, focusing on what rules can be agreed that will reduce the conflicts and ensure that the Internet remains stable, open and safe. This should be taken into account by the Multistakeholder Advisory Group when it deliberates on the agenda for Delhi.

As a starting point, scholars should analyze the types of conflicts that exist. A model for this can be found in the Internet Governance Project’s early analysis of the overlaps between international regimes in the Internet. The discussions under the various clusters in both Athens and Rio should be reviewed to identify those issues that might be in conflict. Using this as a basis, the discussions at Delhi could be narrowed further with a view to identifying those issues that need to be given priority discussion.

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