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Alleged Power Grab: Is Internet Governance Hanging by a Thread?

The Internet Governance Forum in Bali is not without excitement as usual. There is a rumour about a power grab by the technical community.

If the “power grab” is true, then I am assuming that this is a response to threats of institutional frameworks governing or interfering with the current status quo. Personally, I feel that this is anti thesis to “enhanced cooperation”.

If for some reason, ICANN or the US Government is behind the scenes in instigating this move, then I would suggest that it is very bad strategy and will cause more damage than harm to the current status quo. [I am curious as to whether this is a response because of analysis that the demand by the Brazil Government for greater international oversight of ICANN is a real and emerging threat. I have heard that one individual was denied a visa to attend the ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires and that this would be the case for all those applying for visas in Buenos Aires for this meeting. Before we get our feathers ruffled, I would point out that even for this 8th IGF, which almost very nearly did not take place because of funding and other issues, was a temporary hurdle and the organisers through the IGF Secretariat, sponsors were able to address and save the day. I have also asked a friend of mine who is a lawyer in Argentina to find out more. In the meantime, we both feel that this is over exaggeration.

On the issue of Brazil openly declaring that it wants greater international oversight for ICANN is of course the notion that ICANN should not be under the US but rather exist under some sort of institutional framework.

In 1998, Milton wrote an article on some of the dynamics back then. I have mixed thoughts about his take on the matter.

Negotiation and diplomacy is needed—not using a sledge hammer to pry open a peanut. To pacify and engage those who have fears (legitimate fears) is to engage in good faith dialogue where parties are able to hear and understand where people are coming from as opposed to growing suspicion and distrust. In fact, I had in one of my interventions from the floor this week mentioned that you cannot engage in enhanced cooperation if there is suspicion and mistrust.

At this point in time, the issue on the forefront in most government’s mind is “Security” and there is a recognition that a critical element of this is in having cooperation where it comes to addressing vulnerabilities. Technical organisations are well placed to show functional engagement in the areas that they are involved in. As RIRs work towards moving towards harmonised Whois IP look ups and as both ICANN, RIRs and other organisations work towards addressing “Whois Accuracy” they make valuable contribution to the Internet Universe and Ecosystem.

If the concern by the technical community is fear that there will be an institutional framework that will take over the management of critical internet resources, I will say that we need to openly talk about that fear. This is what open discussion in the IGF is about engaging in good and honest dialogue rather than retreating to our caves. Frankly on the issue of cross collaboration between standards bodies, there is a bridge already built to ensure cooperation and understanding.

Even if we examine governments and their priority areas, in the year 2014, there is increasing drought, food, water and energy crisis that have caused a shift in priorities. Economic collapse and depleting revenues, are happening all around the world. I know that we are all familiar with the status in Europe but it is also happening else where. For instance, according to the Australian Government, the Australian economy has been showing positive signs of growth (real GDP growth of 2.75% in 2013-2014 and 3% in 2014-2015, powerful global forces and the once high Australian dollar “savaged” their Budget revenues. 2013 has been marked as the year that Australia had its second largest revenue write down since the Great Depression. Expected tax receipts for 2012-2013 were written down by $17 billion. Since October 2012, the write down over the next 4 years is expected to be written down for $60 billion. Company taxes, capital gains taxes and resource taxes have all been hit.

Of course where revenue base is hit, the next response is “taxing” multinational corporates such as Apple and Google etc. With open data as the new wave. VeriSign reports in its recent quarterly update that Transparency Market Research highlighted that Global Big Data market was worth USD $6.3 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach USD $48.3 billion by 2018, at a compound annual growth rate of 40.5 percent from 2012 to 2018.

Instead of getting its “panties in a twist”, the US Government and the technical community should be showcasing their strengths in terms of regulatory mechanisms over entities. Countries through their governments can work together to harmonize their laws to address improper conduct of MNCs and non-state actors on the Internet. On one hand there is already example of this taking place, such as the Budapest Convention.

87 countries have signed the Seoul Framework which seeks to strengthen global collaboration in efforts to combat cybercrime. This is 45% of countries within the UN. The ‘Seoul Framework’ is based on consensus of a need for greater cooperation among developed and developing nations to curtail growing threats to cybersecurity.

Instead of assuming that “cooperation” is a threat to their space, analysts need to very clearly show all the variables before drawing any conclusion. As someone who is involved in drafting national strategy, policy, law in this area in my country, I can say that this form of cooperation is not about “control” or on issues of “oversight” but more on practical engagements by diverse stakeholders in the Internet economy. There is already inter-government cooperation, inter-CERT cooperation there is room for enhanced cooperation between other stakeholders.

If anything, in this season, the technical opportunity has an opportunity to be champions in the battle to protect global public interest and assist governments and communities in addressing vulnerabilities rather then being suspicious. If we as a community talk about these fears, we can address the concerns in proportionate manner rather then compromising and threatening bridges that have taken so long to build.

Let’s not get our panties in a twist!

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Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet


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