A new social compact for internet governance

7 Dec 2016 17:30h - 19:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

Should there be a new global compact for Internet governance, and what should its main components be? This session was organised around the two recently issued reports by the Global Commission on Internet Governance (GCIG): ‘Toward a Social Compact for Digital Privacy and Security’ and ‘One Internet’.

The moderator of the panel, Ms Laura DeNardis, Director, GCIG, and American University, introduced the reports and the key component of a proposed global social compact – a single, open, trustworthy, inclusive and secure Internet for all. Ambassador Latha Reddy, GCIG Commissioner, provided a more in-depth critical overview of the main elements of the compact, including respect for fundamental human rights, the responsibility of businesses that store personal data, support for encryption, cyber literacy, and limited interception of communications by law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies for purposes authorised by law and according to principles of necessity and proportionality. This last point may be different in practice, as we have seen in the case of Apple vs FBI. In particular, states should coordinate responses to cyber-intrusions and provide mutual assistance to prosecute responsibly, yet the existing norms of state behaviour (such as those by the UN Group of Governmental Experts) are voluntary and non-binding, while more effective mutual legal assistance treaties (MLAT) should be developed.

Ms Sally Wentworth, Vice President of Global Policy Development, Internet Society, underlined that we are all interdependent in the Internet, and thus there is a need to discuss ‘collaborative security’ since each actor in the digital ecosystem has a role to play in securing it.

Mr Pablo Hinojosa, Strategic Engagement Director, APNIC, questioned how far we are from agreeing on a global social compact, and reminded participants that the last attempt, and ‘the closest’ to achieving it was the WSIS. Hinojosa assessed the recent ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) as a step backwards with regards to reaching a multistakeholder agreement, as some member states pushed for standards of digital object identifiers that are not open but proprietary. He expressed doubts that we should look for another WSIS or ITU process, or any political process, as a global social contract, because they are not feasible. ‘Social compact … will not be achieved, but it can only be inspired’ by existing successful multistakeholder processes, like the IANA transition, he concluded.

Ms Emily Taylor, Member, Research Advisory Network, Associate Fellow, Chatham House, emphasised the need to reflect on this concept from different policy perspectives and to try to raise awareness about them. Taylor announced a new Journal of Cyber Policy that should help in this regard.

Ambassador Eileen Donahoe, Commissioner at GCIG, underlined that security is not in opposition to human rights, but rather security is a fundamental human right; at the same time, security is fundamental for economy.

Mr Alejandro Pisanti, Professor, National University of Mexico and ISOC Mexico warned that the reading of the report can be perceived as an invitation for a new global multilateral treaty, which would likely involve only governments. Such an arrangement would also look for a single global executive power, which he assessed as a delusion. Instead, he invited a dynamic, decentralised and diverse dialogue, addressing the compact on different layers and as a composition of existing efforts such as those of ICANN, ITU, UNESCO and other. He underlined that we are not having problems of the Internet, but rather problems of conduct on the Internet.

Mr Jeremy Malcolm, Senior Global Policy Analyst, Electronic Frontier Foundation, reminded the group that Internet rules are already being developed within hard agreements in areas such as trade. In order to make this compact-in-the-making take on a multistakeholder nature, he invited a proactive approach, similar to the former NETmundial initiative, that would not leave the creation of the compact to governments only, as is happening now.

Mr Emiliano Irena, ISOC Youth Fellow, questioned the reality of enforcement of any global compact through different regions, having in mind the cultural and political differences, unless it is made binding.

Mr Garland McCoy, Founder, Technology Education Institute, warned of eroding trust from end-users, since both governments and the private sector lie to them (such as about not using deep packet inspection or the application of the right to be forgotten), as well as a forthcoming concentration of power within only few governments and companies – ‘preeminent guardians of security’ – in the era of quantum computing. He also stressed the need to hold governments and companies responsible, and emphasised the role that the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG) plays.

Dr Thomas Fitschen, Ambassador for Cyber Foreign Policy, German General Foreign Office, responded that democratic governments are aware of their responsibilities. He welcomed the report as a necessary vision by the experts on how to preserve trust, freedoms and liberties on the Internet. Mr Michael Walma, Director and Cyber Foreign Policy Coordinator at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development of Canada, also viewed the compact as a conceptual framework, and not necessarily something that needs to be adopted. He pointed out that some states reject the multistakeholder concept, including the value of NETmundial, and called for efforts to change the perception of a ‘zero-sum’ game toward a win-win dialogue.

In conclusion, Wentworth expressed hopes that next year the G7 and G20 will also include perspectives of other stakeholders when discussing cyber issues.

by Vladimir Radunović