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Europe’s Internet treaty?

Published on 22 September 2010
Updated on 05 April 2024

Thoughts and impressions on what was said and unsaid at the Internet Governance Forum held in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 14-17 September, 2010

What started off as a concept paper circulated by members of a Council of Europe Ad hoc Advisory Group on Cross-border Internet (MC-S-CI) during last week’s IGF has got itself promoted as a ‘global Internet treaty’ ‘proposed by Europe’.

I am either missing a press conference or an interview given by members of the Ad hoc Advisory Group, or a dedicated session which perhaps saw its ‘launch’, or this is the result of a journalist/s who might have misinterpreted the idea of circulating a concept paper for discussion during an IGF parallel session, with that of an international draft treaty discussed at and proposed by an intergovernmental organisation. One article went as far as quoting Elvana Thaci as ‘the Council of Europe official co-ordinating the treaty’s introduction‘. I must have really missed something.

Whatever actually took place, several mouse clicks later over the span of two days’ tops, the same tweet has given ‘Europe’s Internet treaty’ quite a fat share of publicity. But back to what really matters.

What really matters is that somewhere, somehow, a small group of experts have gathered together and made the first step of compiling a list of principles and of sharing them with the 1,200-strong IGF community in Vilnius.

To say that it will never go as far as a treaty is too negative. Such speculation is likely to drown the ship before it can set sail. The roots have been sown (actually, since March, when the group formally met for the first time in Paris), and the IGF was undoubtedly an excellent forum in which to get feedback on the principles. In fact, several representatives shared their praise and concerns on the different sections (Article 7 seemed to attract the most attention).

To say that it will definitively go as far is too presumptuous. The concept paper has opened up Pandora’s box, or rather several of them. One cannot talk about state responsibility without looking at established concepts in public international law; one cannot talk about preventive measures without considering the implications on ISPs and end-users. Resolving these issues necessitates discussions and changes, and when it comes officially to the table, more negotiations.

And what shall we do meanwhile? We can either think twice before reading any more articles, or we can wait until we can read, analyse and discuss the concept paper which the working group will hopefully post online soon.

Read more about IG policy processes in An Introduction to Internet Governance, p. 164 and pp. 183-184.

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