The complexity of global internet governance can not be understated; new issues and challenges arise every year. Consequently, this year is the fourteenth meeting of the UN Internet Governance Forum, in which the vision is “One World. One Net. One Vision.” The Forum, along with copious other discussion points, is a way to bring together the rights of individuals both offline and online. How does the evolution of technology impact the capacity for governing the internet? And what challenges have arisen for the future of the internet, and its regulation and related institutional mechanisms?
We have all seen the drastically increasing presence of technology, specifically the internet, in our lives. Due to inefficiencies in governmental sectors, accounting, science and engineering, the world began to turn towards digitizing for increased productivity in these sectors. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, several international organizations began using this technology for population and infrastructure censusing. The expansion of ICTs did come with a few economic unknowns. From this, two challenges that the implementation of ICTs faced around the world include its scalability and transferability across different geographic and contextual locations.
One crucial aspect of the evolution of the internet that is necessary to point out is that it developed outside of any governmental or organizational context, and even outside of the Westphalian Sovereign State system at large. It grew without early regulation or government approval, which renders it a much more complex and convoluted issue to address. As such, internet governance faces domestic and international challenges. Global differences in culture and politics is a prime example. Countries like China have a completely government-monitored internet system in which they try to address problems through top-down changes in the structure of the internet. Comparing that to democratic nations, the demands for action and human rights are intrinsically different. Can this gap in mindset be bridged? If so, how?
Another possible point of contention in the internet governance is definition-making. The two-phased summit, WSIS, worked to define internet governance, identify relevant stakeholders, and identify what their roles should be. In WSIS II, using the wording of “in their respective roles” gives stakeholders leniency [read: constructive ambiguity] in order to reach compromises on the shared principles and rules that shape the internet. The IGF brings people together to participate with these shared norms and the ITF meets to create a rough consensus and operational code for the internet, both allowing space for voices to be heard. Although these institutions may be slow and bureaucratic, they do provide a multi-stakeholder platform for discussion and rule-making, and due to the ever-increasing influence the ICTs have on development, regulation through compromise will be crucial.