EC calls for accountable governance of the internet
The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has recently called, in a strategic document, for more transparency and multilateral accountability in the governance of the internet. There are today 1.5 billion internet users worldwide, 300 million of which are in the European Union’s 27 Member States. At present, a private US-based body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is responsible for coordinating key elements of the internet.
The Commission agrees that private companies should continue to take the lead in the day-to-day management of the operation of the internet, as long as they are accountable and independent. The Commission also believes that decisions about the internet, especially those about openness and security, should be taken in a transparent and accountable manner because they affect everyone around the globe. ICANN currently operates under a Joint Project Agreement with the US Department of Commerce which expires on 30 September 2009. In the view of the European Commission, future internet governance arrangements should reflect the key role that the global network has come to play for all countries.
Viviane Reding, the EU’s Commissioner for Information Society and Media said: “The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is approaching a historic point in its development. Will it become a fully independent organisation, accountable to the global internet community? Europeans would expect so, and this is what we will push for. I call on the United States to work together with the European Union to achieve this.”
With the expiry of the bilateral Joint Project Agreement between ICANN and the US government due in September 2009, the Commission said today that this private sector initiative should continue its leadership, but should operate within clear guidelines defined through an international dialogue. For example, if ICANN is to oversee the introduction of customised domain names (which will allow a website to replace “.com” with “.anything”), it should set clear guidelines and operate openly. The EU also believes that future internet governance arrangements should comply with key principles, in particular, the respect for human rights and freedom of expression as well as the need to preserve stability and security of the internet.
The Commission called ‘Internet governance: the next steps’, made proposals for the governance of the internet to be more open, transparent and inclusive. A key objective is that of accountability – including both internal (the decision-making bodies and general organisation of ICANN) and external accountability (multilateral accountability involving all countries of the world). This also means that those affected by decisions of governance bodies should have the possibility to lodge an appeal with an independent tribunal. The Commission also proposed that the network should be managed by private bodies within principles agreed upon by public authorities but without government interference in day-to-day operations.
The US government is the only body to have had formal oversight of ICANN’s policies and activities since its inception in 1998. As the Joint Project Agreement is ending now, the Commission believes that ICANN should become universally accountable, not just to one government but to the global internet community. This is particularly relevant given that the next billion of internet users will mainly come from the developing world. The Commission today said that the EU should initiate discussions with international partners on these issues, in particular on how to enhance the internet’s resilience against accidental failure or deliberate attack.
The Commission’s policy proposals want to reaffirm private initiative and ensure that the internet remains an engine of innovation, free speech and economic development.