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Internet Governance and Diplomacy

Jovan Kurbalija

Developments in modern international relations have shown that traditional diplomacy is not capable of sufficiently addressing complex new issues, for example, the environment, health protection, and trade. Governance of the Information Society and the Internet is probably one of the most complex international issues facing diplomacy today. Issues surrounding the Information Society require a multi-disciplinary approach (the various concerns include technology, economy, impact on society, regulatory and legal issues, governance and more); a multi-stakeholder approach (various actors are involved, including states, international organizations, civil society, private sector, and others) and a multi-level approach (decision-making must take place on different levels: local, national, regional and global). Diplo has developed a research methodology which takes all of these approaches into account. The methodology is visually represented by the "Internet Governance Cube”.

The WHAT-axis is related to the issues surrounding Information Society governance (e.g. infrastructure, copyright, privacy, etc.). This represents the multi-disciplinary approach. The WHO-axis of the cube focuses on the main actors (states, international organizations, civil society, private sector) and represents the multi-stakeholder approach. The WHERE-axis of the cube deals with the various frameworks under which Internet and Information Society issues should be addressed (self-regulatory, local, national, regional and global). This represents the multi-level approach to Information Society and Internet governance.

All of the pieces of the cube intersect at one point: HOW. This point in the cube should help us to determine how particular issues should be regulated both in terms of cognitive-legal techniques (e.g. analogies) and instruments (soft law, treaties, declarations, etc.).

A Core Issue

One of the core issues of Information Society and Internet governance is management of domain names and root servers. This critical task, performed by ICANN, facilitates the overall functionality the Internet. While ICANN governs one important aspect of the Internet infrastructure it is only one segment of the overall Internet Governance. ICANN has no role in the hottest fields of Internet governance such as content control, cyber-crime, etc.

Information Society Governance

[Illustration from Diplo Calendar 2004 - The drawing identifies the key actors and issues relevant to Internet Governance, as well as their interactions. In order to structure what is still a complex and often confusing conceptual field, the authors (Baldi - Gelbstein - Kurbalija) developed the analogy of a tower of Babel under construction by a motley collection of interested groups with no architect or blueprint to guide their progress. But whereas the original Babel divided the people of the world, the 21st century version has the potential to reunite them. The key to securing a unified, equitable and prosperous Information Society resides in a better understanding of Internet Governance.]

Created as a compromise between various historical (early Internet community) and current interests (governments, business community), ICANN is an interesting experiment in global governance. It is also an exercise in managing paradoxes, for example:

  • ICANN is a private institution (established under Californian law) which protects the public interest of the global Internet community.
  • ICANN is a national institution (registered in the USA) which addresses international issues (global Internet governance) with an international constituency (governments, international organizations, civil society).
  • ICANN must work in an efficient manner in order to keep up with the development of the Internet, but it has to facilitate the participation of various stakeholders which can be a slow and laborious process.
  • ICANN should be democratic (in order to promote openness, representation and due process in organizational deliberation), but it also must accommodate specific requests by governments for sessions behind closed doors.
  • ICANN must be able to change fast in order to follow rapid developments in this field, but also must remain stable in order to guarantee the basic functionality of the Internet.

On top of all these paradoxes, ICANN has to facilitate communication among very diverse professional and national cultures, starting from the early investors in the Internet who cherish a democratic and communal approach, and extending to profit-driven businesses and representatives of governments and international organizations bringing with them the approach of large hierarchical bureaucracies.

Because of these and other paradoxes, various groups hold different views and expectations of ICANN, and often criticize ICANN's organization and functioning.

By Jovan Kurbalija, Director of DiploFoundation & Head of Geneva Internet Platform
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