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Can the Internet Work Across Borders?

Stéphane Van Gelder

On the face of it, the answer is a rather obvious and simple "yes"! The Internet obviously works across borders. Technically, it is a global network servicing its users wherever they may be on the planet.

But it is this very nature — the fact that the Internet is not bound to a specific country or territory — which has more and more people asking themselves whether it can really work across borders. By "work", they don't mean function, they mean fit into the layers of national laws and best practices that governed human interactions for years before the Internet came along.

Initiated in 2012 by former ICANN Board member Bertrand de la Chapelle, the Internet & Jurisdiction project strives to stimulate discussion and the development of operational solutions to help enhance transnational cooperation on matters of law, economy, human rights, and cybersecurity.

Next week, in Paris, the project is hosting its first conference. From former Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, to Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the US Department of Commerce, Larry Strickling, the list of presenters and speakers is impressive.

So is the program. One stream deals specifically with a crucial aspect for anyone who uses the Internet runs a website or accesses domain name related services such as email. "Trust in the Domain Name System (DNS) is critical to the functioning of the global Internet," says the Internet & Jurisdiction project. "The neutrality of the DNS vis-à-vis political or commercial pressure is a key factor in that regard. Yet, given the difficulty of dealing with illegal sites across borders, pressure is mounting to suspend domain names because of the alleged illegality of the underlying content or activity."

This discussion stream, on which I will serve as rapporteur alongside ICANN Board member Maarten Botterman, who will be moderating, is going to touch on issues that are likely to impact all domain owners and users.

For example, how to balance the global impact of suspending a domain (by definition reachable all over the world) with the need to conform to a legal framework which may be specific to one country and not applicable to another?

Or how to deal with domains used for websites where only a portion of the site is considered illegal by some countries but not others?

Supported by OECD, the European Commission, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the Slovak 2016 Presidency of the Council of the EU, and ICANN, the conference takes place over 3 days from November 14 to 16, at the Ministerial Conference Center of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Consultant
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