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The Internet as Common Heritage of Mankind

Published on 22 December 2015
Updated on 05 April 2024

Malta urges the UN to consider the Internet as common heritage of mankind

On the 15th December Dr. Alex Sceberras Trigona, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York at the High Level Meeting reviewing developments after 10 years since the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10).

He argued for the legal concept of the Common Heritage of Mankind to be also applicable to the critical infrastructure of the Internet by analogy with Article 136 et seq of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which he recalled closing negotiations on in 1981-82 as Foreign Minister of Malta.

Small island states were particularly dependent on the digital economy which was why Malta strongly supported the EU’s work for a digital single market, he explained.

In its turn that huge regional digital market required a global digital market operating in a reliable legal framework such as the Common Heritage of Mankind could provide.

Moreover it was becoming increasingly accepted that Internet Governance problems could not be solved on a national basis alone but on a global basis, Dr. Trigona argued, including by the EU as evidenced in its own commitments in Action 97.

Dr. Trigona explained how difficult it had been way back in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur to advocate the Common Heritage of Mankind concept for the Internet when he first proposed this at the World Internet Forum organized by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.

In those days cyber gurus strongly resisted this proposal as they firmly believed cyberspace existed beyond the stratosphere, beyond national jurisdictions, beyond governments who they warned not to interfere with the internet, even issuing formal Declarations of Independence from Governments.

Many developments since then have provided a better sense of reality. Geolocation of devices, for a start, has enabled the application of  traditional rules of jurisdiction to most internet questions.

Concerns with cybersecurity has brought governments together to counter cyber-crime together in Europe, in Africa, in the Commonwealth. And increasing threats to cyber-security by hackers, cyber-attacks and cyber-terrorists even, have compelled governments to start adopting common rules.

This was a far cry from treating the Internet as a “res nullius” as a no man’s land where everyone would be independent but rather as a “res comunis omnium” as a  common good with common rules especially for the next billion users as Common Heritage suggested, Dr. Trigona declared.

These and other compelling reasons moved Dr. Trigona to suggest that the United Nations General Assembly should consider more specifically the protection of the Internet as Common Heritage of Mankind.

The Assembly was addressed by nearly 200 representatives of Governments, Inter-governmental and Regional Organizations,  NGOs and civil society representatives.

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