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10 Main Internet Governance Developments in 2011

Here is the provisional list of the main Internet governance developments in 2011 and we need your help to compile a final list. Please let us know your views by:

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1. The Internet gets highly political

2011 started with the continuance of the Arab Spring. Although there are very different views on the impact of the Internet on the Arab Spring phenomenon (ranging from minimal to key), one outcome is certain: social media is now perceived as a decisive tool in modern political life. In various ways, the Internet—and its governance—popped up on political radars worldwide this year.

2. Internet governance moves to the premier league of global politics

Internet governance is an increasingly important global issue: its policy relevance is now comparable to topics such as climate change, migration, and food security. This is illustrated by—among other developments—the numerous high-level events on Internet governance this year: the e-G8 Forum, the London Cyberspace Conference, the Vienna Conference on Human Rights and the Internet, and the Hague Conference on Internet and Freedom. In parallel, Internet governance emerged in the mainstream of the UN General Assembly. The main global media (The Economist, IHT, Al Jazeera, BBC) are now following Internet governance developments more closely than ever before.

3. Clearer positioning of the main players

Previous vague national Internet governance approaches have started to crystallise. The USA re-affirmed its support for ICANN. The EU’s Digital Agenda is taking clearer international shape (EU’s Digital Diplomacy). After an attempt to form a joint approach, IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) moved on separately. In October, India submitted a proposal to the UN General Assembly regarding the formation of a UN Committee for Internet-Related Policies. In addition, Russia, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan proposed an International Code of Conduct for Information Security to the UN GA.

4. A shift in Internet governance direction, from technology (IT, telecom) to political ministries (diplomacy, prime ministerial cabinets)

Another consequence of the growing political relevance of the Internet is the reconfiguration of national handling of Internet governance. Diplomatic services and the highest political authorities are more involved. Given the complexity of Internet governance issues, the main challenge will be to achieve policy coherence and informed decision-making.

5. Cybersecurity takes centre stage

An increasing number of security incidents and the fear of cyberwar put cybersecurity high on diplomatic agendas. Cross-border cooperation remains one of the main challenges in global cybersecurity cooperation. Some analysts argue that cybersecurity will become the first area where governments will support a global Internet treaty.

6. Online human rights come into focus

Increasing interest in online human rights was triggered by two major developments: the Arab Spring, and concern that the focus on cybersecurity may endanger human rights (e.g. protection of privacy, freedom of expression). This strong interest has been particularly clear in the last few months with the Vienna and Hague conferences focusing exclusively on online human rights. Moreover, following the Swedish proposal, the UN Council on Human Rights will discuss freedom of expression on the Internet in its 2012 meeting.

7. ICANN’s soul-searching

Three main developments characterised ICANN in 2011: (1) implementation of management reform; (2) introduction of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs); (3) the resignation of its CEO and the search for a new CEO. Policy discussions in ICANN in 2011 reflected different views and approaches to the way in which the Internet should be governed in the future.

8. Internet blackout in Egypt

On 27 January, Egyptian authorities cut the Internet in a vain hope to stop political protests. This was the first example of a complete country Internet blackout ordered by the government. Previously, even in the case of military conflicts (former Yugoslavia, Iraq) Internet communication was never completely severed.

9. Avalanche of Internet principles

Internet principles were proposed by the OECD, the Council of Europe, the EU, and other players. There are many convergences among these principles which may constitute a future preamble of a global Internet declaration or similar document.

10. SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act)

US internet governance decisions tend to have global impact. If adopted, SOPA could introduce liability for intermediaries in the control of Internet content. The anti-piracy measures would shift from the final users to Internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, and financial institutions, among others. SOPA could be described as a battle between Hollywood (the entertainment industry) and Silicon Valley (the Internet industry: Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

Originally posted at Diplo’s website.

By Jovan Kurbalija, Director of DiploFoundation & Head of Geneva Internet Platform

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