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Internet Governance Outlook 2013: “Cold Internet War” or “Peaceful Internet Coexistence”?

Anyone who expected that with the end of the Dubai ITU World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December 2012, the heated debate on the future regulation of the Internet will slow down should remember to fairytale of the battle of the knight with the seven-headed dragon. Hardly a head is cut off, another is growing. In 2013 the discussion on Internet freedom will likely gain in sharpness.

In fact, in 2013 the Internet governance debate will continue at least in seven different venues. 2012 has leaded to a growing polarization. Now the tone of the controversy seems to become more aggressive. Almost a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War of the 20st century, we witness now in the 21st the emergence of a global political scenario which more or less exactly follows this cold war model, not along the old “isms”, but along a different understanding of freedom, human rights, innovation, control and the role of governments. Like fire and water, two incompatible ideas about how the Internet should be organized worldwide stand against each other and form two poles of broad spectrum of different opinions.

On one side, China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and some other Arab, African and Central Asian countries see the extension of their national sovereignty into cyberspace as their first priority. This means not only control and surveillance over the Internet communication within their own territory but also an extension of local legislation across national borders as long as this cross border Internet traffic affects their “national Internet segment”. For those countries, cybersecurity is more important than human rights and it is first of all the government which should be in charge for the development of policies on top of a hierarchical one-stakeholder mechanism

On the other hand, the U.S. and its Western allies see the multi-stakeholder model as the best form of global Internet governance. This model, a kind of round table where the government, private sector, civil society and the technical community develop together, in their respective roles, step by step, in a transparent and open bottom up process Internet policies. For those countries a free, open, borderless and secure Internet can be managed only by a collaborative effort of all concerned and affected parties based on shared norms, programs, protocols and decisions making procedures.

And between those two poles are the “swing states”, Internet-emerging powers such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana and others who reject Internet censorship and closed networks, but have their own political as well as economic interests and are rather critical if it comes to the special role of the US government in ICANN or the domination of the major US companies in the world Internet economy.

This multistakehooder Internet Governance model has enabled in the past 20 years an incredible technical innovation and expansion of individual liberties. To replace it by an intergovernmental treaty system and to turn a bottom up policy development process into a top down regulation where governments make deals behind closed doors would stifle economic growth and restrict human rights.

2013 will see a growing tension among the two poles and no one can say today how free and open the Internet will be at the end of 2013.

1. The ITU World Telecommunication Policy Forum (Geneva, May 2013)

Organised by the ITU, the WTPF is not as WCIT an international treaty conference. The Forum adopts non-binding recommendations and opinions. However it would be very surprising if those states which could not incorporate their proposals into the “International Telecommunication Regulations” (ITR) in Dubai in December 2012 would not come back with concepts as the definition of a “national Internet segment” or the extension of telecommunications rules to all Internet Service Providers, search engines and social networks in Geneva in May 2013. And it would not be surprising if those ITU member states would repeat their call to give the ITU a bigger role in policy making for cybersecurity, a mandate to allocate IP addresses or to bring the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) under the umbrella of the ITU sponsored WSIS Forum. Such WTPF recommendations could later be used at the next ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, scheduled for October 2014 in Busan/Korea where the legally binding ITU constitution and convention is being renegotiated.

2. UNCSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (Geneva, June 2013)

Seven years ago, at the 2005 UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, governments could not agree on oversight over the management of critical Internet resources (domain names, IP addresses, Internet protocols, and root servers). The idea to put ICANN under the regime of an Intergovernmental Internet Council did not get consensus. The compromise was to start a process of “enhanced cooperation” on Internet Governance. The problem of the undefined process was that the vague definition what “enhanced cooperation” means allowed rather different interpretations. Some expected at the end of the process a new UN Internet organization, other saw it more as a process to strengthen the multi-stakeholder model. When in 2009 India, Brazil and South Africa proposed in the UN the establishment of a “Council for Internet Related Policy” (CIRP) a controversial debate started. It did not lead to concrete negotiations, but in May 2011 a one-day “consultation” was held in Geneva to clarify the concept. The outcome of the consultations was that there is a need for more “clarification”. As the next step the 67th UN General Assembly decided recently to establish a “Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation” under the UN Commission for Scientific and Technological Development (UNCSTD) with a mandate to make proposals for further action until summer 2014. Yet there is no schedule and it is also unclear whether the invited representatives of civil society, the technical community and the private sector are equally involved. What is certain is that those governments which are not satisfied with the current Internet governance model will use this stage to argue again for a governmental oversight over ICANN. The regular annual meeting of the UNCSTD is scheduled for early June 2013 in Geneva.

3. WSIS 10 + (Paris, February 2013)

At the WSIS Summit in 2005 it was agreed that after ten years a WSIS Review Conference should be organized to evaluate the progress of the Tunis Agenda. WSIS was a very broad-based summit which covered issues like the digital divide, human rights, infrastructure development, cultural diversity, intellectual property, privacy, cybersecurity, e-learning, e-agriculture, e-health, e-commerce, e-transport and e-everything. A total of 16 action lines were adopted. UNESCO, ITU and UNDP got a mandate to oversee the implementation. Internet Governance issues played a key role in Tunis, however the full dimension of the digital revolution was not yet so clear for all UN member states. The decision in Tunis was, to separate the Internet Governance issues from the other WSIS issues and to put them into the new established Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and into the process of enhanced cooperation. With the 2015er WSIS Review Conference ante portas one can expect that this separation will not work anymore, that all Information Society issues will now be linked to the way how the Internet should be managed globally. There are still two years to go but the process starts already in February 2013 in Paris, when UNESCO is organizing a three day WSIS 10+ meeting. And the battle will continue at the WSIS Forum, organized by the ITU in May 2013 in Geneva, in parallel to the WTPF. In 2014 a high-level 10+ WSIS conference in Sharm el Sheikh will follow, also organized by the ITU. And the “big” WSIS Review Conference 2015 at the UN level will probably take place at the level of Heads of State. One can take it for granted that on the way to WSIS III the two opposing Internet Governance concepts will clash.

4. 68th UN General Assembly (New York, October 2013)

Internet issues are not new for the UN however they did not play a significant role on the 200 items agenda of the annual General Assemblies in the past. That could change in 2013. Already since years Russia is pushing in the 1st Committee of the UN General Assembly (responsible for security and disarmament) for an intergovernmental “Internet Code of Conduct”. Last year they introduced also a draft for a “Convention on Cybersecurity”. The enthusiasm to work out an international Internet treaty is rather limited, at least among the western countries. They point to the existing Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention but Russia, Brazil, India, China and other major emerging Internet economies reject this convention from 2001 because they were not part in its drafting. But 2013 could go beyond a debate of cybercrime. Last year saw the expansion of the cybersecurity debate into the military sector. Cyberwarfare and cyberweapons such as Stuxnet and Flame could become issues at the forthcoming 68th UN General Assembly. Russian wants to start negotiations on disarmament in cyberspace but the US government does not like it and prefers to discuss first “confidence-building measures” such as greater transparency, better information sharing and hotlines for unclear cyberattacks. A so-called “Group of Governmental Experts” (GGE) works since a couple of years on the issue. The “Third GGE” (a group of 15 UN member states including Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Canada, China, Egypt, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, UK and USA) will have two meetings in January 2013 in Geneva and in June 2013 in New York before it reports back to the UN General Assembly in October 2013. Furthermore the 3rd Committee (human rights) will have to deal also with a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in February 2012 which states that everybody enjoys the same human rights offline as well as online, including the right to freedom of expression: Another opportunity for a controversial debate “cybersecurity vs. human rights.

5. The 8th Internet Governance Forum (Bali, November 2013)

When the IGF was established by the WSIS Summit in Tunis in 2005 there was a lot of scepticism. Is this another UN talking shop? But the IGF has matured and it is now a high-level annual meeting of the Internet elite of the world, a place where ministers, parliamentarians, the captains of the big Internet companies, engineers and the civil society discuss on an equal footing all new questions which emerge in the further expanding world of the Internet. It is true that talking is not acting, but more and more it is recognized that sustainable developments in the Internet world need a deep and complex multistakeholder discussion before decisions can be made by bodies which have a legal mandate. But this form of open and transparent discussions among all stakeholders and interested parties, regardless of whether they represent a government or not, is not welcomed by everybody. There are governments which would prefer to go back into the corset of intergovernmental treaty negotiations, where one can operate behind closed doors and engage in traditional political horse-trading. And indeed, one can’t avoid the impression that since 2009 UNDESA, the body responsible for the IGF in New York gives the support for the IGF only a low priority. For more than two years now, the posts of the head of the IGF Secretariat in Geneva (formerly Markus Kummer) and of the Internet Advisor to the UN Secretary General (formerly Nitin Desai) are vacant. The IGF secretariat has only a mini-budget and is completely understaffed. It took months for the UN Secretary General to appoint the members of the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), which is responsible for the substantive preparation of the annual IGFs. However that the IGF has developed yet so magnificent is primarily the result of the commitment of the engaged stakeholders: dedicated governments and non-governmental groups. There were also those stakeholders which were pushing during the last IGF in Baku (November 2012) for a more concrete outcome. They proposed the use the IGF as a platform to discuss Internet Governance principles which could lead to something like a “Multistakeholder Framework of Commitment”. The next MAG meetings are scheduled for February (Paris) and May (Geneva) and it remains to be seen whether the 8th IGF in Desa Nusa at Bali in October 2013 will produce a next step forward.

6. ICANN (Beijing, Durban. Buenos Aires)

When it comes to Internet Governance, ICANN is always up for discussion. ICANN is widely regarded as the first functioning multi-stakeholder governance model, even if it still has many flaws. ICANN’s way into the unchartered territory of cyberspace was described recently by the former US President Bill Clinton as “stumbling forward”. That is not at all bad, Clinton said 2011 in San Francisco, as long as it goes forward. The next step ICANN has to stumble forward is the expansion of the space for internet domain names. After 12 years of discussion on the introduction of new generic Top Level Domains (new gTLDs) ICANN has now opened the doors and is going through the list of nearly 2000 applications. The first new gTLDs could arrive in the Internet Root Server System in fall 2013, followed by a couple of hundreds, months by months. But the road into the root is still paved with all kinds of problems. The trademark owners and the business constituency is not satisfied with the level of protection of their brandnames and want to have further improvements which would lead to another delay into the deployment of new gTLDs. And the governments want to have a decisive role in the final selection. Individual governments have raised already nearly 300 so-called “early warnings”. Such an early warning obliges the applicant to enter into consultations to clarify issues, remove misunderstandings or to withdraw the proposal. In April 2013, at the next GAC meeting, governments plan to give an “advice” to the ICANN Board with regard to new gTLDs which should not be put into the root. This could be exciting at least for three reasons: First, on which names the members of the GAC could reach an agreement, second what the ICANN Board will do with the legally non-binding advice and third what those governments will do when their objections are not respected. Will they appeal to the principle of sovereignty and claim their ultimate decision-making authority when it comes to new TLDs which eventually would affect their “national Internet segment”? There will be a lot of muscle-flexing at the forthcoming ICANN meetings in Beijing (April 2013), Durban (July 2013) and Buenos Aires (November 2013).

7. G8 & G20 (Lough Erne and St. Petersbourg)

The G8 had from time to time Internet on its agenda. In the last year of the Clinton Administration the G8 summit in Okinawa in 2000 adopted declaration on the Information Society which led to the formation of a Multistakeholder Digital Opportunity Task Force (dotforce) which played a substantial role in the preparation of the two WSIS summits in Geneva (December 2003) and Tunis (November 2005). Under the Bush administration the Internet disappeared from the G8 agenda but it came back in 2011 under the French G8 Presidency. The Heads of States, including US President Obama, the German Chancellor Merkel and Russian President Medwedjew, agreed in a “Deauville Declaration” on six fundamental principles for the Internet, including the principle of multi-stakeholder Internet governance that is the involvement of civil society, private sector and technical community in the development of Internet policies. Host of the G8 summit in 2013 is the British Prime Minister Cameroon but he has not yet specified his priorities. The meeting will take place in June 2013 in Lough Erne (Northern Ireland). At the G20 summits, which include also the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) the Internet was not an issue until now. In 2013 Russia has the G20 presidency. Is this an opportunity for the new Russian President Vladimir Putin to raise questions like cybersecurity or the national Internet segment at the G20 summit in September 2013 in St. Petersburg?

Copyright, net neutrality, privacy, etc.

But there will be more venues and topics for the big Internet Governance controversy. After the failed ACTA agreement, some governments are trying to protect their traditional music, film and print industry by new bilateral or regional copyright agreements. The telecom industry will continue to lobby governments to undermine net neutrality and to secure new revenue streams, particularly in the mobile phone sector and for broadband. Privacy will be a big issue and the EU will try to find an answer for the big challenge how to protect personal data in an open Internet which is enforceable globally. There will be an increasing discussion about the business practices of Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon & Co. The Internet of Things, Cloud Computing, Smart Communication, Augmented Reality and other new applications and services will raise new questions. OSCE, OECD and the Council of Europe have already announced major Internet conferences in 2013.. On June, 20 - 21, 2013 the 6th “European Dialogue on Internet Governance” (EuroDIG) will take place in Lisbon.

And as said above, it is unclear whether the Internet will remain in 2013 as open and free as we know it from the previous years with borderless communication and innovation without permission. A probable scenario is the fragmentation of the Internet or a least the cutting out of parts of the global Internet, the so-called “national Internet segment” which would reduce global communication capabilities for millions of netizens and risk to trigger new conflicts on the frontiers of national sovereignty in cyberspace.

Who will be the winners and loosers in the Internet Controversy in 2013? Will it be possible to avoid a “Cold Internet War” and to develop a “Peaceful Internet Coexistence”? Difficult to predict, but one thing is worth to remember what Jon Postel once said: “The Internet works because a lot of people cooperate to do things together”.

By Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor Emeritus at the University of Aarhus

He is a member of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace, was a member of the ICANN Board (2013 – 2015) and served as Special Ambassador for the Net Mundial Initiative (2014 – 2016).

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Another perspective on the Cold War theme Avri Doria  –  Jan 4, 2013 10:42 PM

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