Governments vs. Internet: The Power Struggle of the 21st Century?

Folgender Beitrag entstand während des Global Economic Symposiums, das am 4. und 5. Oktober 2011 in Kiel stattfand. Alle Artikel sind auf zu finden.

Wolfgang Kleinwächter is  Professor for International Communication Policy and Regulation at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. With Economic Insights he talks about the rise of the internet and how it provokes a clash of cultures, power sharing and a tough challenge for the 21st century.

I am using Facbook daily, check my E-Mail and if I want to know something I look it up on Google. So for me everything seems pretty fine. Why do we need a internet governance?

Wolfgang Kleinwächter: There are at least two issues that have to be seen in this context. Number one is that you have an underlying infrastructure, which has to work. This is a layered system and on each layer you have a mechanism in place, which guarantees stability and security. This means: If you are using Facebook you are doing it on a basis of a domain name and your computer has an IP-address. This domain names and IP addresses have been labeled as critical internet ressources. And ressources need a certain kind of management, for example every domain name is unique. The other part is that a lot of this applications have implications, which can be treated as public policy issues. Very known issues are freedom of speech, privacy, intellectual property or crime. All these appear on the internet, too. This leads to the question: How can this be managed in the global world? The difficulty is: The internet is borderless, but our world is organized in nation states.

How does the internet governance structure look right now?

In the last 200, 300 years a government structure was a hierarchy. The internet is a network, we have no central authority. This is a clash of cultures. While all traditional systems of decision-making are more or less hierachcal systems, that are very often negotiated behind closed doors. The internet world, however, has a distributed system, where you have a bottom-up transparent discussion process. This was very successful, otherwise two billion people worldwide would not use it. Goverments believe they can manage the internet like other things, e.g. broadcasting or telecommunication, where you have a national law and a national authority. But internet is different. Traditional policy making in hierarchical mechanismsm does not work anymore.

How could this problem be solved?

This is the power struggle of the 21st century. We have seven billion people on earth and only two billion are online. This means: The big issues will come in the years ahead. Who has the decision power to manage this? Is there a need to have a central decision-making power like the “world government of the internet”? My answer is “no”. We have a decentralized system, so the governance and authorities over certain parts should also be decentralized. Right now the ICANN is responsible for domain names and IP-addresses, the ITF makes the standards, UNESCO could deal with language issues and so on. You have a distributed system, that looks a bit like the internet itsself. The internet is nothing else than a network of networks. You have to bring some order in, because people have human rights, like the freedom of speech.

Do you think the “Declaration of Human Rights” should be expanded to the internet?

No, it should not be expanded, but you have to find ways to implement in the “Declaration fo Human Rights” in this new world. This makes it difficult, because different countries have different legislations. It is impossible that one government can dictate all the others what is legal and what is illegal. Governments cannot escape anymore from closer collaboration.

For example, China and the western countries have very different views on “freedom of speech”. How can there be a collaboration?

There will be issued that will be remained unsettled. In particular if it comes to such issues like ideology. It is much more easier to deal with privacy and intellectual property issues. The only way forward is to identify the issue and then to look how it can be settled. We have do define exactly; What is the responsibilty of the body and what can it do, either by political binding norms or recommendations. The internet governance system of the future will be a decentralized system, where you have in different bodies various decision making powers.

China is big in censorship and it is hard to imagine that a solution will be found. So should this topic be excluded?

China wants to censor certain content. They have developed instruments for their own network. They can control their domain, th .cn-domain, but it is already very difficult to control the .com-domain. This remains a permanent power struggle.

Is this power struggle a new development?

Historically this development is not so new. If you go back in the early days of the industrial revolution new stakleholders emerged, because people wanted representation. We have reached now a similar moment in history, where power is centralized in a national system, but now new constituencies are emerging, which organize themselves on a global level. Two systems, the traditional parlamentarian system and the new emerging sytsem are clashing. Wether the internet will go backwards under the traditional system or will this nice chaos or anarchy destroy governmental structure or will this be something like a cohabitation.

Can you explain the concrete mechanism?

The multistakeholder model is at the very early stage. It is a pioneering work. You try to find out: How can you develop mechanisms on a global level which meet all the questions raised before. I think next to climate change and energy it will be one of the big questions in the 21st century. But you cannot settle new challenges with the instruments of the 20th century. So we have to invent something.

And the multistakeholder-model is this new invention?

I think this is the beginning. There is no alternative. The various parties have to come together and share responsibilities. It is not only about freedom and rights, it is also about duties and responsibilities. It looks a bit utopian and idealistic, I know this. But I did not find any way out from this dilemma within this clash of power.

So in the end the government has to give parts of its power?

Yes, more or less it is about power-sharing. Power does not disaapear, but it is redistributed. The question is: Goes it to the private sector? How powerful will be the civil society? What is the role of government in the future? Governments will not disappear, but they haven’t anymore the capacity to get it all under its control.

When do you think your ideas could become reality?

I guess in 50 years or a bit longer. It is a task for the first half of the 21st century.

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