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Internet Governance in September 2014: The resurrection of cyberspace

Published on 31 October 2014
Updated on 05 April 2024

A webinar digest: Geneva Briefing on Internet Governance (7 October 2014)

To assist diplomats in grasping the complexity of this multidisciplinary and  multistakeholder political environment, and to bring them up to speed on what to follow, when to follow it, and how to follow it, the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP), operated by DiploFoundation, offers a monthly Geneva Briefing on Internet Governance, besides other activities. The briefing webinars take place online on the first Tuesday of every month at 13:00 hrs (CET). Each briefing discusses the main developments in the previous month and looks at those events scheduled for the coming month. The next briefing will take place on 4 November.


September has brought new IG controversies – but also some interesting (constructive) developments. While we focused on the outcomes of the 9th IGF during our September webinar, this time we started with a resurrected discussion on the existence of cyberspace.

Building on Barlow’s famous 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Milton Mueller, a Syracuse University professor and renowned IG scholar, called for the acknowledgement of the Internet Nation during his closing speech at the IGF. Only a fortnight before, Fadi Chehade, ICANN CEO, expressed an opposing view during the World Economic Forum (WEF) event in Geneva by repeating his thoughts from his June speech at the WSIS+10 High Level Event: ‘[…] cyberspace is dead; there is no separate Internet space anymore; the Internet permeates all [..].’ During the same event in Geneva, Klaus Schwab, WEF Founder and Executive Chairman, referred to the Internet as a global public good; this was the first time the business-driven community took such a clear and vocal position ‒ a turn which may feed into bridging some gaps in IG negotiations.

Analysing the current positions of the main players, we  notice several developments. The European Union might need some time to (re)define its IG position due to the new composition of the Parliament and the Commission: from Jean-Claude Juncker’s speech, the new President of the European Commission, it is clear that digital politics will be high on the agenda ‒ which is somewhat signalled with the two Commissioners in charge of digital affairs; yet the first hearing of the new Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, Günther Oettinger, did not clarify the EU’s future position on privacy, data protection, or Net neutrality, though it did put more emphasis on economics and copyrights issues. Brazil is expected to take an even more prominent role after its national elections moving towards what could be the most important IGF meeting thus far, in João Pessoa, Brazil, on 10-13 November 2015. With its new Prime Minister Modi, who has strong support of the Indian business community (many of whom have strong ties with the US Internet industry), India is expected to make a slight shift away from the strong intergovernmental view of IG and move closer to the ‘zone of possible agreement’.

Ongoing discussions about the NETmundial Initiative suggest that the WEF might be taking over the lead role in this process from ICANN, whose role might become more passive, especially with the reserved support of the official US government for this process. Questions remain as to what kind of purpose and activity the Initiative would have and (how) it can build on the NETmundial legacy and legitimacy; the most disputed question is how it should be institutionalised as a process.

After its successful Istanbul meeting, the IGF moves into the two-track renewal phase: a regular annual renewal of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) has been announced earlier than usual, in order to constitute the new MAG and organise an inaugural meeting with outgoing MAG members in early December, and have a functional new MAG ready to start working on the IGF2015 as of the New Year. At the same time, the UN General Assembly will discuss the renewal of the IGF mandate: it is expected that the mandate will be renewed for another five or even ten years, as most stakeholders have asked for;  the role and format are not expected to be changed formally, leaving space for continuous self-improvement based on the report from the CSTD Working Group on IGF Improvements.

A UN Human Rights Council in Geneva held a panel discussion on the right to privacy in the digital age. It is a follow-up on the initiative raised by the Brazilian President at UNGA in September 2013, which has officially put online privacy on the UN agenda.

Cybersecurity was kept in focus through a different lens this time: concerns about ISIS’ capacity for possible cyber-terrorist attacks were high in the media. Some experts, however, dismissed the capacity of ISIS to deliver high-scale cyber-attacks, but underlined its capability to recruit soldiers ‒ especially from western countries ‒ though its intensive and smart campaign on social media, particularly Twitter.

In response to the ‘right to be forgotten’ decision of the European Court of Justice, a massive number of requests for removal of some Internet links are arriving from Europe at Google’s address. According to the New York Times article, thus far Google has received almost 150 000 requests, out of which half have been approved and corresponding links removed from the Google search results in Europe (including some links to articles on The Times, the BBC, the Guardian, and others).

The battle for innovations for extending access to users in developing countries continues, but also brings some policy (and political) challenges. As Google is planning a network of high-altitude balloons around the world, which would provide wireless connectivity to the most distant parts of the planet (and Facebook is considering launching drones for the same purpose), questions emerge regarding the usage and licensing of the wireless spectrum and licences for providing this service in each country. In most cases, this move could be beneficial for all; yet some governments may see this as competition for their incumbent providers, an opportunity for extra revenue, or a political risk from uncontrolled access.

Within the GIP, preparations continue for the Geneva Internet Conference taking place 18-19 November. As background discussions, several webinars were held and discussion forums opened:

Forums are open for contributions and discussions, and the key messages will form the basis of the Conference.

October brought two major IG events: the ICANN51 regular meeting in LA, USA, 12‒16 October, which continued discussions on the IANA transition, ICANN’s accountability, and the position of the GAC and governments in general; and the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, Korea, which is currently underway and runs till 7 November, during which the new Secretary General and the ITU heads will be elected, and the overall mandate (including links with IG) will be discussed again.

We will reflect on these developments in more detail during our next Geneva Briefing on Internet Governance which will take place on 4 November at 13:00 hrs (CET). For more information and to apply, please follow this link.

The video recording of the September webinar is available here:

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