Internet Governance: An introduction

Business people browsing the web on a screen

Introducing the concept 

The emergence of the internet has provided its parent companies to extract big data which is now called the new oil. Its weight of importance is the digital traces of data around the social lives of netizens. As Francis Fukuyama’s most criticized and appreciated title ‘The end of history,’ depicted the end of the cold war and the rivalry of states within the narratives of international relations was narrated, this datafication and digitalization (Flyverbom et al 2017 5) might as well cause ‘end of the liberal order.’ This is because, the advanced capabilities of data analytics and machine learning techniques make it easier to trace, analyze and predict the behavior of an individual. Such micro-control over data is prone to a single company or a small group of companies (as of now) having control of the market. The threat of world monopoly or oligopoly is highly felt under the present less regulated digitalized circumstances. If not the latter, the entry barriers would so high that a new business would inevitably end up merging with the existing bigger sharks or at the best, selling the majority stakes.  

The combined processes of digitalization and datafication create novel conditions for corporate activities, societal governance, and fundamental issues such as how we understand and view the world around us. Such conditions if are controlled either by private companies for business or sates if they get hands-on the data and its analytical algorithms, states may turn into panopticon states. The threat to liberal order is dispersed across – both inside and outside the states. This new threat environment means that the “gaze” of state defense and intelligence agencies has become omnidirectional, anticipating threats in all directions, always. (Flyverbom et al 2017 9) These conditions require that we consider questions such as how we perceive and treat digital data, and how these digital transformations become entangled with societal developments, such as new forms of capitalism, new modes of production, the editing of social realities, and emergent forms of governance.   

This current international data structure brings an urgency of adopting a universal standard of internet governance which is the source of all the data. It must consider multi-stakeholders who represent the social, societal, political, business and cultural life of the publics. Currently, most of these decisions are the result of standards developed by engineers and computer scientists propagated among themselves or through regional and international standard-setting bodies. 

Background of ICANN: 

ICANN has become a complete, sole authority on internet governance from the moment the US relinquished its principal authority on ICANN (BBC 2016). The reasons for the latter have been identified as the external pressure from countries like China, the EU, Brazil, and other nation-states (Becker 2019). Earlier, even though there was a huge contestation from all the states during the 2 World Summits for Internet Society in 2001 and 2005, the fundamental structure of ICANN maintained the status quo with the addition of Internet Governance Forum (IGF). It was designed as an institution to further discussions on the different cleavages in internet governance without being authorized to make binding decisions. Again in 2012, updated International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR) recommended in 2012 challenged the US hegemony but in vain. The US lost its authority to dictate the terms using its soft power to retain control over ICANN when Edward Snowden revealed the secret files of NASA scooping on the world data. Finally, in 2016, it relinquished its authority on ICANN but cleverly divided the decision making into two bodies. One handling the technical systems and the other on the policy issues. Nonprofit public benefit corporation (PTI) handling policy issues is formed under California state laws and subjected to huge influence from the US. 

References: 

Lee, Dev. 2016. “Has the US just Given Away the Internet?” BBC News. October 1, 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-37527719 

Flyverbom, Mikkel. Ronald, Deibert. DirkMatten.2017. “The Governance   of Digital Technology, Big Data, and the Internet: New Roles and Responsibilities for Business.” Business & Society.  

Becker, Manuel. 2019. “When public principals give up control over private agents: The new independence of ICANN in internet governance.” Regulation and Governance. 


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