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Internet Governance Outlook 2024: “Win-Win-Cooperation” vs. “Zero Sum Games”?

The 2024 “To-Do-List” for all stakeholders in the global Internet Governance Ecosystem is a very long one. Not only the real world but also the virtual world is in turmoil. Vint Cerf once argued that the Internet is just a mirror of the existing world. If the existing world is in trouble, the Internet world has a problem.

The Internet, as it has evolved for more than half of a century, is a global network that links thousands of networks around the globe to enable communication among anybody, anywhere, anytime, regardless of frontiers. The “One World, One Internet” concept is based on this universal infrastructure, where everything is connected and everybody is dependent on everybody. In the digital world we live in, as the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (HLP) has stated, in the “Age of Cyberinterdependence” (2019).

Interdependence means that we all sit in one boat, whether we like each other or not. Global problems such as climate change or pandemics do not ask whether you are in the “blue corner” or in the “red corner.” If the “boat people” are unable to find a common language to navigate in stormy waters, they all risk to sink. And the Internet infrastructure is such a global problem.

Reciprocal trust and mutual benefit were the guardrails for the development of the Internet. It was based from the very early days on the philosophy of “sharing.” If it works for my neighbour, it works for me. If he/she fails, I will have a problem. This “win-win philosophy” was the conceptual background for the emergence of the global information society and its institutions like ISOC, IETF, ICANN, and the IGF.

But an Internet with five billion users is different from an Internet with five million. “Netiquette,” defined in RFC 1855 from 1995, is widely unknown among the new generations of today´s Internet users. Internet freedoms are misused. And political leaders in the 2020s have returned to zero-sum games.

Zero-sum games do produce winners and losers. The problem in an interconnected world is that winners risk celebrating Pyrrhus victories. Unintended side effects fire back. The digital sphere is still a “terra incognita.” Even twenty years after the United Nations organized a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), we do not yet fully understand how life is functioning in a borderless cyberspace with 193 sovereign nation-states and seven billion people. We are still in the early years of the “age of cyberinterdependence.”

2024 could become a litmus test of whether the international community is able, regardless of all the political, economic, and cultural differences, to find some common solutions for the further development of our digital environment. There are opportunities to channel developments in fields like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, infrastructure deployment, protection of privacy and freedom of expression to the benefit of the broader public. But there are also growing risks, such as the Internet being pulled into geostrategic conflicts. Cyberconflicts could go out of control and lead to digital disasters, where everybody will be a loser.

Global Digital Compact (GDC)

In 2024, the Global Digital Compact (GDC) will be at the center of the discussion. The idea of such a compact goes back to the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, where the 193 UN Member States adopted a Declaration in September 2020, which included a call for enhanced digital cooperation. “Shaping a shared vision on digital cooperation and a digital future that shows the full potential for beneficial technology usage, and addressing digital trust and security must continue to be a priority as our world is now more than ever relying on digital tools for connectivity and social-economic prosperity,” says the declaration. As a “Follow Up,” Guterres drafted a “Common Agenda” and proposed a “UN Summit on the Future”, scheduled now for September 2024. The GDC is part of this process. At the summit, UN member states will adopt a “Pact for the Future,” and the GDC will be included in the form of an Annex.

Der GDC has been under discussion since 2022. The IGFs in Addis Ababa (December 2022) and Kyoto (October 2023) did have extensive conversations. The UN published a “Policy Brief Number 5” (July 2023) with some proposals. The two GDC co-facilitators, the governments of Sweden and Zambia, organized numerous multistakeholder consultations and deep dive discussions and published a short issue paper in September 2023. The design of the summit on the Future was discussed by another round of consultations in December 2023 in New York, facilitated by the governments of Germany and Namibia.

The timetable for the last mile is now fixed. There will be two additional rounds of public consultations, both with governments and non-governmental stakeholders, in February and March 2024, followed by three rounds of intergovernmental negotiations in April and May. Written contributions can be delivered until March 10, 2024. The final text should be ready in July or August. If everything goes smoothly, the GDC will be adopted by acclamation on September 23, 2024.

However, all the multistakeholder consultations, deep dives and issue papers didn´t produce a clear picture. Many substantive and procedural questions remain open. It is unclear how the suggestions from non-governmental stakeholders will be included in the final intergovernmental negotiations. The GDC will include seven chapters, but it is unclear whether the GDC will be drafted as a short statement with general principles or as a comprehensive document with detailed recommendations. In the consultations, deep conceptual differences on issues like artificial intelligence, human rights and cybersecurity became visible. It will not be easy for the negotiators to bridge such substantial differences with a common diplomatic language.

It is further unclear how a GDC follow-up should be organized. The IGF has offered to act as a “landing place” for the GDC. If the GDC formulates some recommendations, the IGF could oversee its implementation and present an annual report on “The Stage of Digital Cooperation in the World” to the UN General Assembly (UNGA). In 2019, the HLP recommended to enhance the IGF towards an IGF+. The GDC now offers an opportunity to implement this recommendation. The alternative idea, articulated in the “UN Policy Brief No. 5”, to establish a new “Digital Cooperation Forum” (DCF) didn´t get any support. The DCF was broadly rejected by the international community, including at the IGF in Kyoto.

The GDC is seen by many stakeholders as an opportunity. However, there are also voices that see a risk that a GDC could undermine existing multistakeholder structures and procedures. It could reopen a debate on whether the Internet Governance Ecosystem should get an intergovernmental chapeau. Guterres has described the “UN Summit on the Future” as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity”. This is probably true for the “Pact for the Future.” But it is not true for the discussion around digital cooperation. Digital cooperation has been discussed by various generations. It started in the 1990s. And it will continue beyond 2030. It is a never-ending story and will keep coming generations busy.

This long journey has produced a number of consensus principles which are laid down, inter alia, in the Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), the Tunis Agenda (2005), the Sao Paulo NetMundial Declaration (2014) and the UN Roadmap on Digital Cooperation (2021). There is no lack of “guardrails”. A GDC has to be based on this heritage. Its opportunity is to identify some gaps and to specify some recommendations on how to deal with new challenges such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and social networks. And it can also clarify procedures for enhanced multistakeholder cooperation.

The Internet Governance Ecosystem is functioning. It has some weaknesses, but even in difficult times, such as the pandemic, the existing mechanisms worked and enabled home office, home learning, and home shopping for billions of individuals around the globe. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The GDC drafters should read once again the letter that the IGF Leadership Team sent to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres after the IGF in Kyoto. In the letter, they proposed strengthening the IGF.

WSIS+20

A decision on the Future of the IGF has to be made at the WSIS review conference scheduled for 2025 (WSIS+20). Preparations for WSIS+20 started just recently at an “Intersessional” of the UN Commission on Science and Technological Development (UNCSTD) in November 2023 in Lisbon. UNCSTD is the UN body responsible for the implementation of WSIS.

The main focus of the Lisbon meeting was how the WSIS goals can be more closely linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An SDG review conference is scheduled for 2030. It would make sense for the next development cycle (2030 - 2045) to combine SDG- and WSIS-objectives, probably as “Comprehensive Development Goals” (CDGs). In such a process, an IGF+ could play a key role as a universal and enabling multistakeholder discussion platform.

Building on existing agreements makes sense, particularly at a time when geostrategic tensions reduce the opportunity to find consensus on new steps. At WSIS 1 (Geneva 2003), all 193 UN member states could agree that a global information society has to be “people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented”. They envisaged an information society “where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainability developing and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” This was good language in 2003. And it is good language in 2024.

There is also no need to redraft the Internet Governance definition, as agreed in the Tunis Agenda at WSIS 2. The “broad definition” from Tunis included both the technical aspects (management of critical Internet resources and standards) as well as the “Internet-related public policy issues.” Certainly, since Tunis, the Internet has seen new waves of innovations. And we did see an enhanced debate about new governance approaches to new problems in the digital sphere. New language was introduced as Digital Governance, AI Governance, Cyber Governance, Data Governance, IOT Governance etc. But unfortunately, such new terminology created more confusion than clarity.

The good thing is that the broad Internet Governance definition from Tunis addresses all the governance challenges of new developments, from AI to IoT. The key elements of the Tunis definition—all stakeholders have to be included in their respective roles, and policy development and decision-making have to be shared in open, transparent, inclusive and bottom-up processes—are relevant not only for the management of the domain name system but also for the Internet of Things, data management, cybersecurity and AI development. Reducing the term Internet Governance to the technical aspects (the “narrow definition”) and introducing new language for the political aspects would lead to terminological confusion and definition wars. And it would contribute to Internet fragmentation.

Artificial Intelligence

The risk of growing confusion is also part of the discussion on artificial intelligence. Everybody now wants to have an AI strategy. The G20 has already adopted AI principles in 2021. The G7 started an AI Hiroshima process in 2023. The US president did publish an AI Executive Order (EO). The EU is drafting AI legislation. The Council of Europe is working on a legally binding AI Convention. UNESCO has adopted a recommendation on “Ethics and AI”. The UN has establiehd an AI Expert Group. Numerous countries, including China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa and others, are discussing national AI strategies. And a group of governmental experts have discussed the very sensitive issue of lethal autonomous weapon systems for ten years.

Is this a hype? And if yes, can the 2024 AI hype compare with the Internet hype in the 1990s? There is an interesting difference. In the early days of the Internet, the argument “if it isn´t broken, don´t fix it” got broad support. In 2024, the majority of governments and stakeholders agree that there is something that has to be fixed. There is a broad consensus, both among governments and stakeholders, that AI needs some kind of regulation. Everybody agrees that the possibilities of AI must be maximized and risks minimized. But the bad news is that nobody knows how to do it. The key question is how to find the right balance. And here, the political battle starts

Opinions differ as to what this regulation should actually look like. The spectrum ranges from proposals for very detailed regulation with clearly defined duties and responsibilities (including bans of AI applications that violate human dignity) to proposals for framework regulations with more general principles, which would postpone detailed regulations to a later stage when the consequences of individual applications can be assessed more specifically.

A good example of this ambiguity and vagueness was the “AI Summit,” organized by British Prime Minister Sunak in London in October 2023. In the adopted “Bletchley Declaration,” 27 governments and leading Internet companies agreed to identify AI risks and to develop appropriate policies and necessary regulations but remained silent about how this should be done. Participants want to promote an “internationally inclusive network of scientific research on frontier AI safety that encompasses and complements existing and new multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral collaboration, including through existing international fora and other relevant initiatives, to facilitate the provision of the best science available for policy making and the public good.” This sounds fine but says nothing. It is just talking the talk. It is not walking the walk.

The London Talkshop should now travel around the world and take place annually. Seoul will be the next host in the autumn of 2024. Whether this will duplicate the ITU AI summit is unclear. The ITU has organized a similar AI summit called “AI for Good” since 2017. The dates for 2024 are May 30-31, in Geneva.

How those international discussions will influence lawmakers in national parliaments is another open question. So far, the US Congress has been unable to draft bipartisan AI legislation. Challenged by the EU AI Act, which was completed successfully in December 2023, US President Biden published a more than 100 pages long Executive Order (EO) on “Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence” in October 2023. The EO aims “to establish new standards for AI safety and security, to protect Americans’ privacy, to advance equity and civil rights, to stand up for consumers and workers, to promote innovation and competition, to advance American leadership around the world, and more.” A presidential EO is not a formal law but is also legally binding.

AI is also on the agenda of the US-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC). Insofar as it is not a surprise, there are a lot of similarities between the US EO and the EU AI Act. However, there are also basic differences that the TTC could not solve. The EU, with its “risk-based approach,” prefers specific regulations for various applications. The US prefers a “framework approach”.

Will the EU-Act or the US-EO become models for global AI regulations? EU president Ursula von der Leyen is sure that “our AI law will make a significant contribution to the development of global rules and principles for human-centered AI.” She hopes that the “Brussels Effect,” which worked in the field of data protection with the GDPR, will also work with regard to AI. But this remains to be seen.

The EU AI legislation is much more complex than the GDPR. And it is not yet complete. In 2024, special “Codes of Conduct” should be developed in cooperation with business, science and civil society. National market surveillance authorities will get supervisory powers and have to be coordinated. AI applications have to be certified according to the four risk categories. And a new “European Office for Artificial Intelligence” will be set up.

Nevertheless, the discussion on the global level will continue, and the UN will play a crucial role. The UN AI Expert Group presented five principles as core elements for future global regulation in its interim report “Governing AI for Humanity” (December 2023). “AI should be governed inclusively, by and for the benefit of all; AI must be governed in the public interest; AI governance should be built in step with data governance and the promotion of data commons; AI must be universal, networked and rooted in adaptive multistakeholder collaboration; AI governance should be anchored in the UN Charter, International Human Rights Law, and other agreed international commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals.” Also, this sounds nice. It looks a little bit like Internet Governance 2.0, which is not bad. But again, how is this linked to the dynamic developments in the AI market? In the early Internet days, code makers were faster than lawmakers. Is this a “deja vue”?

Nevertheless, one can learn something from history. One issue is the creation of institutions that try to manage the challenges on a global level. Thirty years ago, the new Internet institutions were IETF, ISOC, ICANN, the World Wide Web Consortium, Regional Internet Registries and others. All of them were non-governmental institutions. Today, policymakers propose new intergovernmental organizations for AI. In the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres referred to the IAEA as a model. At the G20 Summit, the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, proposed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a model. The UN AI Expertgroups has examined more than twenty, mainly intergovernmental models, but has not yet made a proposal in its Interim Report. The final report is expected to be in the summer of 2024. If there is a need for a global AI body, why not get inspiration from multistakeholder corporations? Would something like an ICANN make sense for AI? More than 20 years ago, the late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was calling for “innovation in policy making.” The multistakeholder approach to the management of the Internet was such an innovation. It would be a real step forward if the AI discussion would trigger the next step for policy innovations.

Unfortunately, AI discussion is getting more and more pulled into geostrategic conflicts and the military sphere. Both the EU AI Act and the Council of Europe AI Framework Convention have excluded the military aspect. But an AI arms race is exploding, as one can see in the military conflicts of our times, both in Ukraine and Gaza.

In the Ukraine war, internet-based drones are used both for reconnaissance and offensive operations. Cyber attacks on civilian and military objects are an integral part of warfare on both sides. Everything is now checked, whether it is useful for fighting the enemy. One interesting example is that even technical surveillance cameras installed in major Ukrainian cities to protect public security are now used by Russian hackers as a gateway for military reconnaissance. The cameras are using Russian software. On the other hand, a Ukrainian semi-private IT army regularly attacks targets in Russia. In the Gaza war, the Israeli army used AI-generated facial recognition to identify and kill Hamas fighters. This essentially turns the Internet into a weapon.

Global social networks are increasingly becoming a platform for psychological warfare. Attempts to control hate speech and false information through platform regulation have had so far little success. It remains to be seen whether the EU’s Digital Service Act (DSA) will produce another “Brussels Effect” and reduce fake news and hate speech. In October 2023, UNESCO adopted a document with principles for a platform regulation that applies to all 193 UN states. However, the document is not legally binding.

There are growing calls to stop an AI arms race. Internet-based autonomous weapon systems were discussed for the first time in the UNGA in October 2023. To date, negotiations have taken place in a “Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems” (GGE LAWS). But there is no progress there. On December 4, 2023, the 78th UNGA adopted a UN resolution initiated by Austria with 164 votes in favor, five against (Russia, India, Mali, Niger, and Belarus) and nine abstentions (including China). The UN resolution contains little substance. The UN Secretary-General is simply asked to submit a comprehensive report to the next UNGA. Governments and stakeholders are encouraged to contribute to the report.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who died in December 2023, warned of a military AI catastrophe in an essay in “Foreign Affairs” in October 2023. He compared it to the risks of nuclear war. “Will machines with superhuman capabilities threaten humanity’s status as master of the universe? Will AI undermine nations’ monopoly on the means of mass violence? Will AI enable individuals or small groups to produce viruses capable of killing on a scale that was previously the preserve of great powers? Could AI erode the nuclear deterrents that have been a pillar of today’s world order? At this point, no one can answer these questions with confidence. But as we have explored these issues for the last two years with a group of technology leaders at the forefront of the AI revolution, we have concluded that the prospects that the unconstrained advance of AI will create catastrophic consequences for the United States and the world are so compelling that leaders in governments must act now.” Kissinger demanded that China and the USA begin negotiations on this issue based on the model of the US-Soviet SALT negotiations to avoid nuclear war in the late 1960s. To what extent the AI consultations, agreed by US and Chinese Presidents Biden and Xi at their summit on November 15, 2023 in San Francisco, will include these military aspects remains to be seen.

Cybersecurity and Cybercrime

In 2024, cybersecurity discussions will continue in the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) under their 1st UNGA Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee (AHC) under the 3rd UNGA Committee.

The OEWG will have two formal intergovernmental meetings and some informal multi-stakeholder sessions in 2024. The most practical challenge for the OEWG will be to operationalize the new intergovernmental mechanism of the so-called “Points of Contact” (PoC). The PoC mechanism is intended to work like the “red telephone” that was installed between the USA and the former Soviet Union after the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. In the event of a cyber attack, governments should be given the opportunity to contact the suspected government to clarify the situation. A similar mechanism was introduced by the OSCE years ago, and it worked well on the regional level.

But more difficult will be the discussion about the Future of the OEWG. The OEWG mandate terminates in 2025. There is a general agreement that the UN needs a permanent negotiation platform for cybersecurity issues. However, there are two different proposals on the table: Western countries want to launch a so-called “Program of Action” (PoA), which would concentrate on the implementation of the eleven cybersecurity norms adopted by a “Group of Governmental Experts” (GGE) in 2015 and endorsed by numerous UN resolutions. Russia, China, and some other countries want to give the OEWG a permanent status with a mandate to negotiate new norms and to translate the nonbinding norms into a binding UN Cybersecurity Convention.

The West does not fundamentally reject the idea of additional norms but argues that one should first be clear about how the existing eleven GGE norms are applied in practice by states. Before moving to the next level, one must have a comprehensive picture of the behavior of states in cyberspace in accordance with international law.

The schizophrenic situation is that both proposals were adopted by the 78th UNGA. The Russian draft resolution got 112 votes in favor and 52 against (including all EU members, USA, Japan, Australia, Turkey, Ukraine and Albania) with eleven abstentions. The resolution on the PoA, introduced by France, got 158 votes in favor, 10 against (including China and Russia), and 12 abstentions. It will be interesting to see how this will play out in the 2024 OEWG sessions.

It is also unclear how non-governmental stakeholders from business, academia, civil society and the technical community will be included in the future OEWG work. Between the formal OEWG meetings, so-called informal consultations allow everyone, regardless of whether they are recognized by ECOSOC as an NGO or not, to raise their voice. This applies, for example, to Internet companies such as Microsoft, research institutions such as the Geneva Cyber Peace Institute or the Global Forum for Cyber Expertise (GFCE) based in The Hague. However, many NGOs are barred from participating in regular OEWG meetings. Although the POA resolution did call for an inclusive dialogue with “relevant stakeholders” where “appropriate”, the barrier is that governments have a veto right in deciding what is “appropriate.”. Russia has put more than a dozen NGOs on the “black list”, including the World Economic Forum (WEF). Ukraine, in turn, has blocked the participation of Russian institutions such as the Moscow Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).

NGOs have easier access to the AHC meetings on cybercrime. Whether this will help to finalize the negotiations in spring 2024 is another question. On November 6, 2023, the chair of the AHC presented a new draft text for the UN Convention against Cybercrime. But the text is still overflowing with “square brackets.” It is still unclear what exactly is meant by a crime in cyberspace. Illegal intrusion into foreign networks? A blogger’s violation of national censorship regulations? Western countries want a narrow definition, and autocracies a broad one. Procedures for cross-border online investigations and the extradition of identified criminals are unclear. What is also controversial is how to find a balance between cybersecurity and human rights that is based on the rule of law.

The final AHC meeting is scheduled for the end of January 2024 in New York. If there is no consensus, the convention can also be adopted with a two-thirds majority and presented to UNGA in autumn 2024. If the West decides not to sign, the Council of Europe’s 2001 Budapest Convention against Cybercrime will continue to apply.

Digital Trade and Digital Taxation

Expectations are also low with regard to global arrangements for digital trade and digital taxation.

In February 2024, the 13th ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) takes place in Abu Dhabi. In 2017, 71 countries, which represented 90% of the digital trade in the world, agreed in a “Joint Statement” at the WEF in Davos to work towards an agreement to substitute a moratorium on customs and duties on transborder data flow. “We confirm our intention to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce,” the statement said. And “we will seek to achieve a high standard outcome that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO Members as possible. We recognize and will take into account the unique opportunities and challenges faced by Members, including developing countries.”

The plan was to finish the negotiations by 2020, but conceptual disagreements and the pandemic slowed down the process. The WTO eCommerce Committee, co-chaired by Singapore, Japan, and Australia, announced in December 2023 that a final agreement could be reached soon after the Abu Dhabi meeting. They have an agreement on 13 agenda items covering three key areas: facilitating digital trade, opening up the digital environment, and enhancing business and consumer trust.

But the negotiations are now overshadowed by a statement of the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, which declared on October 25, 2023, that the US is not interested anymore in such a treaty. Even experts in the US, such as Fiona Alexander, who negotiated for the US Department of Commerce for more than 20 years digital policy in the UN, ITU, OECD, and ICANN, were surprised and asked the question, “Has the US Abdicated Global Digital Leadership?” According to Alexander, the decision by Tai is contrary to the commitment of the Biden administration to resist efforts to splinter the global Internet and to realize the benefits of data-free flow with trust, as agreed by the 2023 G7 summit meeting in Hiroshima. China, in contrast, has reaffirmed its commitment in favor of a WTO digital trade treaty. In other words, we also see growing confusion here.

The same can be said for progress on digital taxation. Two years ago, the G20 and the OECD celebrated a landmark agreement in the form of an “Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting” (BEPS). BEPS did have two pillars. But if somebody expects that digital taxes will be collected soon, he has to acknowledge now that this will take time. Implementation of the two pillars is moving forward very slowly. On October 11, 2023, OECD and G20 agreed on a “Multilateral Convention to Implement Amount A of Pillar One (MLC)” as a first implementation step. The MLC will enter into force on June 1, 2024, followed by more small steps for the rest of Pillar One and later for Pillar Two. To get digital taxes sounds like waiting for Godot.

From Networks back to Hierarchies?

Next to the UN Summit on the Future, 2024 will see many summit meetings where big powers will discuss the key issues of a turmoiled world again. Even if Internet-related problems do not now have a first priority when presidents meet, cybersecurity, digital cooperation, and Internet Governance are on the agenda of all the high-level processes.

The G20 summit will meet on December 1, 2024, in Rio de Janeiro/Brazil. The G7 summit is scheduled for June 13-15, 2024, in Apulia/Italy. In October 2024, Russia will host the BRICS summit in Kasan. Kazakhstan chairs the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and will organize the 2024 SCO Summit in Astana. And there are other high-level meetings by ASEAN, APEC, OSZE, OAS, and other organisations, which all have cybersecurity, digital cooperation, and Internet Governance on their agenda.

The G20 has a “Digital Economy Working Group”. Four meetings are scheduled, including a ministerial meeting. The G7 has an annual meeting of digital ministers. They will meet on March 15, 2024 in Verona. Russia has announced that it will give cybersecurity and digital cooperation a high priority on the way to the BRICS summit in Kasan. BRICS has now, next to the original five members (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), five new members: United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Iran.

And there is an endless chain of other high-level expert meetings, such as NetMundial, CyFy, CyCom, Rights Con, Lisbon WebSummit, ICANN and IETF meetings, and the IGF in Ryad in December 2023. Will this “Internet Governance Flying Circus” contribute to finding common solutions for global issues?

Thirty years ago, Manuel Castells told us that in a network society, policymaking is shifting from “hierarchies in bordered places” to “networks in borderless spaces.” What we did see in recent years was a shift backward from multistakeholder networks toward intergovernmental hierarchies. Unfortunately, this produced more polarization than collaboration. It would be good news if 2024 could reverse this trend.

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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