Vint Cerf at ICANN by Veni (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/3KWko9

Vint Cerf at ICANN by Veni (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/3KWko9

Internet Governance

Secret Surveillance Puts Internet Governance System at Risk

One year ago, many Internet users were engaged in a contentious debate over the question of who should govern the Internet. The debate pitted the current model led by a United States based organization known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (supported by the U.S.) against a government-led, United Nations-style model under which countries such as China and Russia could assert greater control over Internet governance.

The differences between the two approaches were never as stark as some portrayed since the current model grants the U.S. considerable contractual power over ICANN, but the fear of greater foreign government control over the Internet led to strong political opposition to UN involvement.

While supporters of the current model ultimately prevailed at a UN conference in Dubai last December where most Western democracies, including Canada, strongly rejected major Internet governance reforms, the issue was fundamentally about trust. Given that all governments have become more vocal about Internet matters, the debate was never over whether government would be involved, but rather about who the global Internet community trusted to lead on governance matters.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that the Internet governance choice was a relatively easy one at the time, but in recent weeks the revelations about widespread U.S. secret surveillance of the Internet may cause many to rethink their views. Starting with the first disclosures in early June about the collection of phone metadata, the past two months have been marked by a dizzying array of reports that reveal a massive U.S. surveillance infrastructure that covers the globe and seeks access to virtually all Internet-based communications.

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August 2, 2013 4 comments Columns

Secret Surveillance Puts Internet Governance System at Risk

Appeared in the Toronto Star on July 27, 2013 as Secret Surveillance Puts Internet Governance System at Risk One year ago, many Internet users were engaged in a contentious debate over the question of who should govern the Internet. The debate pitted the current model led by a United States […]

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August 2, 2013 Comments are Disabled Columns Archive

American Girl Loses Battle for AmericanGirl.ca Domain

American Girl, the well-known doll maker, recently lost a domain name battle over AmericanGirl.ca as panelist Bradley Freedman ruled that the company failed to meet the basic requirements in the dot-ca dispute resolution policy. The case should have been a slam dunk as the company’s trademark pre-dates the domain name […]

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January 21, 2013 3 comments News

ITU Phobia: Mueller on the WCIT

Milton Mueller offers an insightful take on the recently concluded WCIT. Mueller characterizes some of the extreme ITU criticism as “ITU phobia”, which he notes: One notable feature of ITU phobia is that it takes the alternative internet institutions off the hook. They are inherently good – good by definition […]

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December 20, 2012 Comments are Disabled Must Reads

UN Internet Meeting About Who Pays, Not Who Rules

Should the Internet be treated like traditional phone services when it comes to regulation and pricing? That is the contentious question as the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency with roots dating back to 1865 and the interconnection of telegraph services, meets in Dubai next week for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).  The WCIT is a treaty-writing event that has attracted growing attention given fears that the ITU and countries such as Russia plan to use it to press for greater control over the Internet.

My weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that there are certainly legitimate reasons for WCIT suspicion since the ITU lacks transparency and largely excludes public participation. For months, the ITU proposals scheduled for debate (known as International Telecommunications Regulations or ITRs) were shrouded in secrecy and the organization itself offered only limited opportunity for public participation. Moreover, some countries view the WCIT as an opportunity to increase their leverage over the Internet by proposing regulations that would increase governmental controls.

While these issues are cause for concern, proposals aimed at seizing control of Internet governance are unlikely to succeed and the reality is that governments already flex their regulatory muscles within the current U.S.-backed Internet governance framework.

The focus on a UN takeover of the Internet has obscured the real concern with the WCIT, namely efforts by telecom companies to find new sources of revenue by changing the way we pay for the Internet.

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November 27, 2012 10 comments Columns