A blog on why norms matter online

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are there dangers to the Internet principle hype?

In the last weeks and months a number of organizations and dynamic coalitions have proposed principles for Internet Governance. In an excellent summary, Wolfgang Kleinwächter of the University of Aarhus, a renowned expert in Internet Governance, has called this trend "Internet principle hype".

Basically, developing principles based on human rights and multi-stakeholder partnerships is a good thing. But there are dangers, too. Mainly that stakeholders accept principles without reading them carefully. Recently, a letter by China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan made news through which they propose a GA Resolution on a Code of Conduct for the Internet. 

To name just one example: 

The Code of Conduct include the following language at (c): States pledge 

"To cooperate in combating criminal and terrorist activities that use information and communications technologies, including networks, and in curbing the dissemination of information that incites terrorism, secessionism or extremism or that undermines other countries’ political, economic and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment;" 

This broad phrasing lends itself to political misuse. Curbing the dissemination of information that undermines the "stability" of other countries or their "spiritual and cultural environment" is much too vague and would be used by states to legitimize illegal censorship measures up to Internet shutdowns. 

Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project has written an interesting analysis concluding that the letter "is yet another futile attempt to overlay territorial sovereignty on an internet that is fundamentally inconsistent with it". 

Here, at the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, Internet Governance Caucus representatives are working on a  statement on the letter to be presented at the closing on Friday.  

What lesson can we take from this? All stakeholders have to analyze the principles to ensure that they are in furtherance of human rights and can not be used to legitimize human rights violations. 

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