India has joined hands with Brazil and South Africa to explore ways and means of taking forward a proposal to establish a new global body, within the United Nations framework, to oversee global Internet governance.
The move, which evoked a mixed response from the global Internet community, was spelt out by officials of IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) at a seminar on global Internet governance in Rio de Janeiro in September.
Just a few days ago, the joint declaration that was issued following the fifth IBSA summit in Pretoria took note of the recommendations of the Rio de Janeiro seminar and “resolved to jointly undertake necessary follow-up action.”
The Rio meet felt that a body was urgently required within the U.N. system to “coordinate and evolve coherent and integrated global public policies pertaining to the Internet.” It also called for ensuring that Internet governance was “transparent, democratic, with multiple stakeholders and multilateral.”
Paraminder Singh, director, IT for Change, a non-governmental organisation which participated in the Rio seminar, told The Hindu: “Internet-related policies today are made either by mega global digital corporations or directly by pluri-lateral bodies of the rich nations, like the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.”
The Indian position, enunciated at a meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) last month, was that the Rio recommendation was only a starting point for discussions. It was yet to be fleshed out by the IBSA. The IGF is a forum for multi-stakeholder dialogue on the Internet, constituted to help the U.N. Secretary-General carry out the mandate set by the World Summit on Information Society.
However, the official Indian representative made it clear at the IGF meeting that the existing Internet governance processes and mechanisms needed to be made more inclusive and more sensitive to the requirements of developing nations.
Some observers see the proposal as undermining the multi-stakeholder model that is now followed for managing the Internet.
One argument heard at the IGF meeting was that there was no need for a new global body. Organisations like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversee the functioning of the global Internet address system, had shown the capability to respond to the concerns of developing nations.
“Usually governments that pay lip service to the multi-stakeholder systems will make the real decisions, while the private sector and civil society are given some kind of minor voice,” said Milton L. Mueller, Professor, Syracuse University School of Information Studies.
“On the other hand, it is unfortunately true that the existing fora make it more difficult than it should be to discuss any change that challenges the hegemony of the established institutions such as ICANN, the Regional Internet Address Registries, etc.,” he said. “Unfortunately, the IBSA approach makes this problem worse rather than better.”
“A big part of these ‘other stakeholders' are the oligarchic global digital corporations that need to be regulated by global policy frameworks. There are of course progressive civil society actors in this category, but much of civil society in the Internet governance space is oriented to the interests of relatively better-off classes,” says Mr. Singh of IT for Change.