India, Brazil and South Africa call for creation of “new global body” to control the Internet

On the 1st and 2nd of September in

Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian foreign relations ministry, the Brazilian

Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and the

Center for Technology & Society (CTS/FGV)

held what they called a “Seminar” on Global Internet Governance

But while “seminar” has an educational,

even academic ring to it, this event was more than that. It was actually a

preparatory conference for a major political initiative regarding Internet

control. On September 13, the three important developing country governments – India, Brazil and

South Africa (IBSA) – who ran the conference issued a statement that shows they are openly abandoning the

distributed model of the Internet and rejecting networked governance and even the new multi-stakeholder models

of governmental involvement. Now they are openly pushing for a new coalition of states to control the

Internet. If Sarkozy wanted to “civilize” the Internet, IBSA wants to intergovernmentalize it.

No, the IBSA countries do not want to put the Internet into

the hands of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). What IBSA

proposes is actually worse than that. The three governments are calling for the

creation of a “new global body,” “located within the UN system,” to “develop

and establish international public policies” for the Internet and to “integrate

and oversee the bodies responsible for technical and operational functioning of

the internet, including global standards setting.” Apparently, this new global

authority would “integrate and oversee” the ITU as well as the IETF and ICANN!

Details are sparse, given the grand scope of the public

policy making agenda IBSA seems to have in mind. We don’t know anything about

how the people who run this “new global body” would be appointed and how they

would be held accountable. We have no idea how its proponents would establish

authority over the “technical and operational functioning of the Internet”

without wrecking it. And there is no evidence that the people who proposed this

idea care much about that. But we did get some clue about how bottom-up and democratic the

IBSA group will be from its proposed method for developing the proposal. The IBSA

paper said that the proposal will be finalized at a summit meeting of the three

governments in mid-October (civil society and Internet businesses will not be

allowed to participate), and then taken directly to the UN General Assembly. So

there are no plans for multistakeholder institutions such as the IGF to be

involved, no plans for a public consultation; no plans for hearing the voices

of the people and businesses they propose to regulate. It will just be

governments voting.

Why is this happening? There are two reasons. One is rooted in

the failure of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to deliver on certain aspects of the Tunis Agenda, the

politically binding document produced by the World Summit on the Information

Society. The other reason is naked political ambition.

The IBSA governments have been critical of the failure of

the Internet Governance Forum to implement paragraphs 68 and 69 of the Tunis

Agenda. Those sections were perceived by many states as a call for “internationalization”

of Internet governance, one that would give “all governments…an equal role and

responsibility for international Internet governance.” Enhanced cooperation was

always a code word for modifying U.S. unilateral control of Internet names and

numbers. IBSA and many others are justifiably dissatisfied with the way “enhanced

cooperation” was sloughed off by the IGF’s leadership, and turned into meaningless

happy talk about how everyone is engaging in “dialogue” post-WSIS.

A summary of the seminar by one of the participants claims

that “existing arrangements do not implement the ideal of enhanced cooperation…

Enhanced cooperation is needed as a platform to develop public policies…. The

institutional gap in policy making is currently being filled by regional and

plurilateral regulation and by self-regulation from global companies.”

But there is more to the initiative than that. The IBSA group is also interested in Internet governance’s potential, in the words of

their own statement, “to enhance IBSA’s profile as a key global player.” In

other words, IBSA wants to use the Internet governance issue to enhance its own

prestige and leadership among the world’s states.

It’s also important to take note of things that are NOT

driving this initiative. The U.S. Commerce Department has been rationalizing

its efforts to give itself and ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) more

control over ICANN by telling us that it is worried about the “political

sustainability” of ICANN. If we don’t give governments veto powers over new

domains or otherwise make ICANN kowtow to GAC, the Commerce Department tells

us, then governments will abandon the institution and possibly split the root. One could interpret IBSA's proposal as support for that thesis. I draw the exact opposite conclusion. To this observer, the IBSA proposal makes it clear that strengthening GAC will never satisfy these particular governments. IBSA does

not want more influence in an “Advisory Committee,” it wants to put governments in the driver’s

seat – and it wants that for the entire Internet, not just ICANN. IBSA is not

talking about splitting the root, it is talking about taking over the root. The

whole topic of ICANN not listening to its GAC enough does not even come up in

summaries and notes of the Rio meeting. Indeed, ICANN itself is not even

mentioned in the IBSA recommendations. 

The IBSA recommendations say that “the models proposed by

the (World Summit on the Information Society’s Working Group on Internet

Governance, WGIG) provided useful guidelines” for a new global Internet

governance body. This is a false and manipulative statement. There were four

different models proposed in the WGIG report, and most of them were inconsistent

with each other. One of the WGIG proposals explicitly stated that no new global

body was needed. If IBSA is trying to pretend that its proposal has some kind

of imprimatur from the WGIG or the WSIS, no one will be fooled.The WGIG proved that IBSA-like models of governance did not command consensus, or even majority support.

The real loser in all these developments, however, is the

Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the UN’s putative multistakeholder nexus for

reaching agreement on Internet governance issues. By bypassing IGF completely

in the development of this proposal, IBSA has openly declared that it does not

view the IGF as a useful forum for Internet policy

development or political initiatives. But then, the Western, developed world leaders did

the same thing earlier this year with the eG8 forum. None of the major western powers seem to have

even thought of using the IGF to do what the eG8 did. Coupled with the

leadership vacuum left by the departure of Markus Kummer and Nitin Desai, the

IGF is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

IBSA’s proposal stands no chance of gaining acceptance and

being implemented. By freezing out civil society and business and by rolling

back multistakeholderism, IBSA cuts off two legs of a three-legged stool. The

proposal will be adamantly opposed by the Internet technical community, and will

also manage to alienate the ITU, which almost certainly doesn't want to be transformed and “integrated” into a “new body.” Needless to say, all Internet businesses will

oppose it, and so will most governments outside the IBSA orbit.

The proposal does, however, sharpen the ideological divisions over global internet governance, and prove that the issue of Networks vs. States is still very much a live one.


6 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Any strong proponents for a multi-stakeholder system in those countries that could persuade the bureaucrats to reconsider? Or is it too far “gone”?

  2. Anonymous

    Pranesh:

    I agree, the principles are good. But it's easy to formulate calls for wonderful things like “diversity” and “continued innovation” – it is much harder to develop and institutionalize global regimes for protecting and implementing such things.

    At any rate, the Brazilian CGI is not IBSA. CGI is rooted in industry and civil society and does have governmental participation. The CGI principles are not law in Brazil and seemed to have played no role in the formulation of the IBSA plan.

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