Can We Govern the Internet?

This week seemed to revolve around the issue of Internet governance. We left class this week with the sentiment that the issue of governance is not static and is in fact a fight that continues to move forward and be debated. This does not necessarily seem like ground breaking news to me honestly. Battles over who “governs” the Internet are continuously played out in court battles (such as the Yahoo and France case over what can be bought and sold on the Internet in conjunction with laws of actual countries) or even in less obvious ways, such as a country simply censoring what search terms can be used (China would be the perfect example here). It has always been quite obvious to me and I assume almost anyone that the Internet is a place where people from all over the world gather and thus, laws which vary wildly all must make some sort of sense on the Internet.

Currently, it is quite obvious that though the Internet is a gathering of people, governments have an extremely large say in what goes on on the Internet. If you pirate music or movies online while in the United States, the U.S. government will find you and consequences for your actions will occur as pirating copyrighted material is illegal in the U.S. And if you’re in Turkey and you try to search anything that offends or talks negatively about the government, you will not be able to see the results of those searches. The way Internet governance is currently functioning seems to make sense.

But, how much longer will it (having the Internet governed by nation-state governments) continue to make sense and can the Internet be governed globally? The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) tried to address the problem of Internet governance by allowing governments, civil society, private industry and International Organizations to come together to discuss how exactly the Internet and the information society should function globally. The result was four documents (the Geneva Declaration of Principles, the Geneva Plan of Action, the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society) that were very nice in principle, but as with all International agreements had very loose language.  And in addition to that, people are smart and will not always accept that the government of their nation-state imposes laws that are also valid on the Internet. I think a perfect example of this would be in Turkey where protestors took to the streets after being told that ISPs would give citizens a choice on filtering, but that filtering of websites would still occur. People see the Internet as a place free from “governance”. I guess I’m just wondering how long will it take for governments to give up trying to govern the Internet and allow people to govern themselves? Or even more a question, can people govern themselves online without the interference of governments, civil society, etc.?




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