On 12 February, the European Commission (Commission) issued a Communication which seeks to establish a common European approach to Internet governance. The Internet is mainly governed by US organisations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and although it is understandable that in the past the US led the drive for Internet governance, this approach no longer corresponds with the global identity of the Internet. In an attempt to make Internet governance more inclusive and rebuild trust in the Internet, the Commission advocates a multi-stakeholder approach to governance and calls for a harmonised set of rules that ensures respect for fundamental rights.
ICANN, an important organisation in governance of the Internet, operates under a contract with the US government to coordinate and oversee the assignment of domain names. To promote moving away from this US-centric model of governance, the Commission will work with stakeholders to implement a clear timeline for the globalisation of ICANN. Luigi Gambardella, Chairman of the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association, which represents the major telecoms operators in Europe, supports this approach: “We need more Europe in internet governance, or we won’t be able to make an impact at global level”. The intention is also to rebuild trust in the Internet, which has been partly lost as a result of the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance operation and the prevalence of cybercrime, the Commission recognises its responsibility to ensure that key legislation is adopted.
Another issue which is addressed in the Communication is the conflict between laws and jurisdictions that apply on the Internet. Contradictory legal decisions have been made where, for example, domain names used in one jurisdiction are revoked on the basis of the law in another jurisdiction. The Commission proposes an in-depth review of such conflicts and the processes and tools used to solve conflicts.
The Commission does not call for new legislation to address the issue of Internet governance and instead promotes a multistakeholder model of governance. In order to improve this model, the Commission calls for the key players, and processes involved, to be more inclusive, transparent and accountable. It also identifies the need to develop structures in countries where stakeholders are not currently well represented and proposes to develop an online platform (called the Global Internet Policy Observatory) to make information more widely accessible.
Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the Commission, has made it clear that the Commission favours a multistakeholder approach over national models of governance: “I agree that governments have a crucial role to play, but top-down approaches are not the right answer. We must strengthen the multi-stakeholder model to preserve the Internet as a fast engine for innovation." This view is aligned with the Commission’s opposition to recent plans from Brazil, China and Russia to impose national restrictions on the flow of data in response to security concerns.
The Communication identifies the need to facilitate discussions between stakeholders through, for example, development of the Internet Governance Forum, which was established by the World Summit on Information Society, as a medium for stakeholders, many of whom had not previously worked together, to discuss the future of Internet governance. It also proposes to establish a coherent set of principles for stakeholders which ensures that fundamental rights and democratic values are respected. The Commission also makes it clear that the role of public authorities in the multistakeholder context needs to be clearly defined to ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities while maintaining respect for human rights. The relationship between technical norms and public policy is also addressed, with the Commission proposing workshops to facilitate discussions between technical experts and stakeholders.