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As WGIG forms, Ideas about Defining its Scope Circulate

The Internet Governance Project (IGP) issued a set of reports analyzing the current “state of play” in Internet governance. The reports were commissioned by the United Nations ICT Task Force as an input into the deliberations of the UN Secretary-General’s Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG).

The report identifies the international organizations and agreements affecting the Internet, and points out where there are conflicts and gaps. It also takes on the thorny task of defining what exactly is the “Internet” and what falls within the scope of “Internet governance” for the purposes of the WGIG deliberations.

The report and tables have been submitted to Markus Kummer, the Secretariat of the WGIG. On September 20, the report will be presented by one of its authors, Professor Milton Mueller, in Geneva, Switzerland at a consultation organized by the Secretariat of the Working Group. The members of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance are expected to be chosen by Secretary-General Kofi Annan a week or two after the consultation.

The idea of preparing a “matrix” clarifying which international organizations are involved in which issue-areas emerged from the ITU Geneva Workshop in February 2004 and the UN ICT Task Force’s Global Forum in New York City a month later. At those meetings, it became clear that there were already many forms of “Internet governance” going on, from ICANN to the existing and pending WIPO treaties dealing with copyright and Internet broadcasting. Objections raised by ISOC and the International Chamber of Commerce that “governance” was threatening and unnecessary thus dissipated, and the argument shifted to the assertion that existing regimes and international organizations were doing fine and should be left to tend to their knitting.

The IGP report also stakes out new ground on the difficult issue of defining Internet and Internet governance. Until now, concepts of internet governance tended to move to one of two extremes: those who wanted to define it extremely narrowly, as basically what ICANN does, and those who equated Internet governance with a mandate to investigate virtually any and every international issue related to information and communication technologies (ICTs). The IGP report takes a carefully considered middle ground, defining “Internet” in terms of the specific protocols used. It notes that physical layer and layer 2 issues are out of scope as TCP/IP pertain only to layer 3 and above. However, a broad number of international issues that go well beyond ICANN’s scope must also be categorized as “Internet governance.” This includes such things as IPR protection in digitized information that use the Internet for dissemination and exchange, surveillance and privacy issues as they pertain to ISPs and Internet users, several trade and ecommerce issues that involve Internet use, attempts to impose content regulation on the Internet, and the economic accounting and charging arrangements affecting internet interconnection - including, of course, the things ICANN is involved in.

The report asks global and national authorities to come to terms with what it calls two basic facts about the Internet: its nonterritorial nature and the end to end principle. It also calls upon the state-driven international system to “find a foundation of legitimacy and accountability” for non-state actors such as IETF and ICANN.

By Milton Mueller, Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy

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