Turbulent times in Internet governance: it’s time to think about the current model
Updated on 07 August 2022
Jean-Marie Chenou and Roxana Radu, authors of the book The Evolution of Global Internet Governance: Principles and Policies in the Making, analyze in this guest blog how the Internet governance multistakeholder model has fared so far in terms of participation, legitimacy and accountability. Their book explores ways to improve the model in order to strengthen these key democratic principles. Moreover, it addresses the crucial difficulty of reconciling national sovereignty and national interests with the necessary international cooperation in the governance of a global network. Now more than ever before, Internet governance cannot be seen as a technical issue. The highly political character of Internet governance appears every day in the news. The volume takes security and inter-state competition seriously in its analysis of the multistakeholder model.
What shook the Internet governance (IG) realm more than the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) was the Snowden mass electronic surveillance revelation of mid-2013 and its spill-overs. Both are likely to trigger a redefinition of current roles played by different stakeholders in the medium to long run, but should they be seen as completely independent occurrences or rather placed on a continuum? Looking briefly at the history of IG debates – not entirely uncontroversial – locating authoritative decision-making gets more and more complicated in the maze of formal and informal configurations for IG. Linked to that is the quest for making global IG more democratic. Legitimacy, accountability and participation are key recurrent themes in IG and recent events have only stirred more attention towards the ability of multistakeholder governance to fulfil such expectations.
Following WCIT-12, expert opinions on this have recently been collected in our volume entitled The Evolution of Global Internet Governance: Principles and Policies in the Making. The chapters in this volume look at how the internet-specific debates affect the international system more broadly. We have considered IG in the making from three complementary angles. In part one, we looked at the institutional dynamics explaining the emergence and the evolution of Internet policy-making at the global level, as well as principles that shape its transformation. In part two, we examined multistakeholderism as the dominating mode of governance and pointed to its shortcomings and potential ways to reform it. In part three, we explored the example of Internet security as a case-study of the competing logics of national interest and global cooperation. The contributors – both academics and practitioners – explore ways forward to make global Internet governance more democratic. They insist on legitimacy, participation, accountability and cooperation as basic features of future processes.
This reflection became all the more essential in the evolving context of the last months. In reaction to the tensions evidenced during the WCIT-12 and in reaction to the Snowden revelations, a number of initiatives have emerged to prepare the future of IG. Just before the book was released, the main organisations in charge of the global Internet technical infrastructure called in Montevideo for the evolution of the global multistakeholder Internet cooperation. The Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation is about to hold its third meeting in Geneva, with the mandate to find ways to fully implement the Enhanced cooperation process defined in the Tunis Agenda. In two months from now, the Sao Paulo meeting will provide yet another opportunity for the stakeholders to discuss the future of IG. Although different in their goals, procedures and composition, all these initiatives share the same concern for the stocktaking of the multistakeholder model, and its possible evolution.
Against this background, the timely contribution made by the volume sheds light on the debates and identifies key elements that need to be addressed. Basically, it analyzes how the multistakeholder model has fared so far in terms of participation, legitimacy and accountability. It also explores ways to improve the model in order to strengthen these key democratic principles. Moreover, it addresses the crucial difficulty of reconciling national sovereignty and national interests with the necessary international cooperation in the governance of a global network. Now more than ever before, internet governance cannot be seen as a technical issue. The highly political character of Internet governance appears every day in the news. The volume takes security and inter-state competition seriously in its analysis of the multistakeholder model.
IG is going through turbulent times. However, in spite of the urgent character of the issues at stake, and in the middle of the debating frenzy, it is critical to take the time to think clearly about the multistakeholder model.
Join us for a book launch discussion on 24 February in Geneva, to discuss with this book’s authors about IG for tomorrow.
Jean-Marie Chenou is a PhD candidate and teaching assistant at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques et Internationales at the University of Lausanne and a member of the Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur l’International (CRII). He is currently finishing his thesis on the role of transnational elites in shaping the evolving field of Internet governance.
Roxana Radu is a PhD candidate in International Relations/Political Science at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva (Switzerland) and a research fellow at the Center for Media and Communication Studies (CMCS), Central European University, Budapest (Hungary). Her current research focuses on new modes of governance for global internet policy-making.
[Editor’s note: Roxana Radu is a Diplo alumnus who participated in our Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme in 2010/2012.]