NEW RELEASE: Who Governs the Internet?

Who governs the internet?

Based on the guiding principle „digital policy means social policy“, this publication follows the idea that Internet governance affects everyone. An open, free and global Internet is vital for all. Therefore, infrastructures for surveillance and censorship should not be established.

This publication gives an overview of actors and areas of action and stresses that collective engagement is needed more than ever to further develop Internet governance, to strengthen multistakerholderism as well as multilateralism and to hinder the fragmentation of the net. The publication was created by iRights.Lab on behalf the FES.

"Who governs the internet?" will be published shortly. Order here

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Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kleinwächter: “There is no alternative to a collective approach”

This interview is part of the updated and extended new edition of "Who governs the internet?" / pre-release

To what extent is the „digital authoritarianism“ in countries such as China or Russia, in contrast to the UN's ambitions to create new architectures for global digital collaboration?

Kleinwächter: The new Internet Governance complexity reflects the political mainstream at the end of the 2010s: Digital neo-nationalism is growing. The Freedom House titled its 2018 annual report „The Rise of Digital Authoritarianism“. More and more governments see global Internet related policy issues primarily through a national lens. They want to control the flow of data which crosses their borders. They fear that borderless communication will undermine national security, domestic digital economy or local culture. Key words are „cyber sovereignty“, „national Internet segments“ or „my country first“. The aim is to re-introduce the borders which the information revolution had removed when TCP/IP and DNS based networks embraced the whole globe.

Many governments do not believe anymore in global solutions to fight cyberterrorism, cross border cybercrime or digital dominance. They prefer unilateral actions within their own jurisdiction. Russia has built its own Internet root, China filters harmful content. Iran, Saudi-Arabia and India introduce strong data localisation laws. The US excludes Huawei from building 5G networks. France goes for a digital tax. Germany pushes Facebook to block fake news and hate speech. And governments in many developing countries are taking the whole Internet down if something is happening, which they do not like. 22 African states – out of 51 –  have disrupted connectivity over the past five years.

Does it mean we have to go backwards and reintroduce the barriers which has been removed by the digital revolution?

Kleinwächter: A fragmented Internet would reduce the value of the global network, lead to instability in cyberspace, turn down innovation and economic growth, promote national protectionism, stimulate local censorship and surveillance. It would open doors for new forms of confrontation among „national Internet segments“, including „network wars“ with a new generation of cyberweapons. Today, some governments see the global Internet less as an opportunity for a win-win-situation but more as a zero-sum game, with winners and losers. They believe that they can win national political stability (and strengthen local power) if they regulate the Internet by limiting related economic and social activities within their territory. But this approach has a flip side. The re-introduction of national borders into the global cyberspace does not really create more security. It leads to an illusion of control, but does not match the realities of the information age. Like in environmental issues, going alone does not settle the global problems of mankind.

At the IGF 2018 in Paris, the French President Macron proclaimed an „innovative multilateralism“ in matters of Internet regulation. Does this not require even greater involvement of non-state actors in the main international policy fora – such as UN, WTO, G20?

Kleinwächter: The UN High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation speaks about „The Age of Digital Interdependence“. Interdependence means that no country can live anymore in isolation. It means also that solutions can be found only via enhanced cooperation among all stakeholders, i.e. governments, business, civil society and the technical community. It means also that solutions can be found only by taking into account that sectors as cybersecurity, digital trade, human rights and technology – the four basquets of the digital world – are interlinked. There is no alternative to a holisic and collective approach. Innovative multilataralism needs wisdom and courage, but first of all political good will, which is rare in our time. Digital unilateralism offers low hanging fruits. But these fruits are poisened. Digital unilateralism can trigger weaponization of cyberspace, digital trade wars and massive violations of human rights online. It can undermine stability in cyberspace, a space which is used by more than half of mankind. Cyberspace was created by humans. But for future generations, cyberspace will be part of the common heritage, of their natural ecosystem. And one should have no doubt that instability in cyberspace is as dangerous as climate change.

Wolfgang Kleinwächter is Emeritus Professor of Internet Policy at the University of Aarhus. He is a member of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace, has been a member of the ICANN Board (2013 to 2015) and Special Ambassador of the Net Mundial Initiative (2014 to 2016). He also advises numerous committees and institutions on Internet governance and security.

The questions were asked by Jan Engelmann, iRights.Lab and co-author of the updated new edition of "Who governs the Internet?"


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