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Do Europe and the US need to stick together on issues of internet governance?

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Do Europe and the US need to stick together on issues of internet governance?

Alex Helling's picture
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The spying scandals seem to have helped make Europe more sensitive over US control over the internet. The European Commission has a new document on “Internet Policy and Governance Europe’s role in shaping the future of Internet Governance”. The EU appears to be throwing its weight behind the desire to change internet governance that until now has mostly been voiced by non-western nations such as India, Russia and China. The Commission says “revelations of large-scale surveillance programmes and a fear of cybercrime have negatively affected trust in the Internet” with the result that a new policy on internet governance is needed.

Much of what the EU says is not surprising “The European Union has always been committed to the Internet as one single unfragmented space… Blocking, slowing down or discrimination of content, applications and services goes against the open nature of the Internet… filtering traffic at borders or other purely national approaches can lead to fragmentation of the Internet” the US would completely agree.

But next it advocates “increased efforts towards diversification of the underlying infrastructure such as local internet exchange points and transmission capacity… as well as measures necessary to protect fundamental rights and to address concerns raised by revelations of large-scale surveillance and intelligence activities.” Slightly less welcome, though at the rhetorical if not the practical level the US would no doubt agree.

It is however the view of internet governance that may cause consternation in Washington. “The exclusive relationship of ICANN with a single government – as illustrated by its Affirmation of Commitments – originates from the history of the Internet and must become more global in an era of the Internet as it has become a vital support function of societies and economies in the whole world.” The EU wants the globalisation of ICAN and IANA essentially taking away the monopoly that the USA currently has.

The EU wants a ‘multistakeholder model’ of internet governance where by many more governments and organisations would have a role in internet governance. This is not the same as what countries such as Russia are advocating for which is much greater government control. The commissioner Neelie Kroes highlighted that “We are rejecting a United Nations or government of internet governance … we want geographic balance not government control”. Stakeholders does not just mean governments. And it may well put its money where its mouth is on this issue as it plans to overcome a “general sense of non-inclusion and disenfranchisement” in internet governance by facilitating remote participation in meetings and to create a Global Internet Policy Observatory which would monitor internet policymaking making what is going on accessible to the public.

Internet governance is not the only area of digital policy making where there is a split between the EU and the US. The European Parliament has recommended ending the practice of US companies being allowed to collect and transfer European data because they believe that this data is vulnerable to the NSA. Moreover the important trans atlantic trade talks could be held hostage to the agreement and implementation of new data protection rules.

Does this split matter? Well first of all it may not continue – if there is agreement that satisfied the Europeans on data protection then issues of governance will likely be seen to matter less as well. It also should be remembered that there are multiple proposals to how to change internet governance. If push comes to shove and the question is whether the EU would support a more national division of the internet that might divide the internet up or the US retaining control then it seems almost certain that the EU would opt to support the latter; the current status quo. It is however quite possible that the EU position will win out. If there is no agreement then individual governments can continue to work towards controlling their own national chunks of the internet; it is the US that has the extreme position. If Russia and others were to agree that the EU multistakeholder model is a good compromise then it might create the possibility of an agreement that would retain the internet as we know it largely intact.

Debatabase debate ‘Should we fear the power of government over the internet?’ http://digitalfreedoms.idebate.org/debatabase/debates/politics/should-we-fear-power-government-over-internet

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2014:0072:FIN:EN:PDF

http://euobserver.com/news/123109

http://www.dw.de/snowden-left-in-the-lurch-by-eu-parliament/a-17429568

3 years 14 weeks ago
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