European Commissioner Neelie Kroes says it’s time to change the way the Internet is governed
The European Commission (EC) wants to change the way the US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) rules the online world by putting more power in the hands of the international community.
The Commission has released a set of proposals on Wednesday morning, which set out a timeline for the ‘globalisation’ of ICANN, and propose that Internet governance should be officially based on principles of freedom. The EC has also asked for a new framework for solving international disputes.
The EC believes that there’s a secret war being waged by nation states over the control of the Internet. We saw echoes of this conflict in 2012, when Russia, UAE, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan, and Egypt demanded some powers transferred from ICANN to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations (UN). Following a backlash from the US authorities and their allies, this proposal was later withdrawn.
“The next two years will be critical in redrawing the global map of Internet governance. Europe must contribute to a credible way forward for global internet governance. Europe must play a strong role in defining what the net of the future looks like,” said Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda.
I heard a change is coming
ICANN is a non-profit body which has been looking after the net’s technical specifications and domain name system since 1998. Theoretically, it operates a “multi-stakeholder model”, which sees businesses, civil society, governments and research institutions participating in the decision making together and on equal terms.
In the last few years, the organisation has been increasingly criticised by non-US politicians and businesses, especially over some decisions related to the registration of ‘dot-anything’ domains.
On Wednesday, the EC proposed a few changes aimed at making ICANN more transparent, accountable and inclusive. These include more opportunities to influence decision-making for ICANN’s international members, more power given to the Internet Governance Forum – interestingly, another organisation serving the UN – and a review of the existing conflicts between national laws or jurisdictions.
The EC is also planning to launch the Global Internet Policy Observatory – a brand new organisation tasked with monitoring the relationship between governments and the Internet.
“Some are calling for the International Telecommunications Union to take control of key Internet functions. I agree that governments have a crucial role to play, but top-down approaches are not the right answer. We must strengthen the multi-stakeholder model to preserve the Internet as a fast engine for innovation,” said Kroes.
ICANN’s vice president for Europe Nigel Hickson largely ignored the proposals in his response to the announcement. “ICANN is pleased that the European Commission in this important Communication is emphasizing the need to sustain the multi-stakeholder approach to governing the Internet. It is an approach that is defined by global inclusivity, where voices from business, government and independent Internet users are welcome.
“We are looking forward to working together with all relevant global parties, not least the Greek Presidency of the European Council, to create policy solutions aimed at keeping the Internet open and unified, which is vital for the growth of national economies”.
The renewed pressure to reform ICANN could be seen as a consequence of the US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance scandal, and the resulting tensions between Europe and the US.
Changes to ICANN structure are likely to be discussed further at the Internet Governance Forum meeting in August, and the Netmundial conference in San Paulo, Brazil, scheduled for April 2014.
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