This module is a resource for lecturers

Internet governance

According to Kerr (2003), there are "two dominant perspectives of the Internet" (cited in Frischmann, 2003, p. 205): on the one hand, the Internet is viewed as "a global meta-network that serves as an open platform for the transmission of information among end users that connect computers to the network;" on the other hand, the Internet is viewed "in terms of the applications it enables and the ways in which those applications affect end users" (Frischmann, 2003; pp. 205-206; see also Kerr, 2003, p. 359-360). It is the latter conception of the Internet "that leads to the conception of cyberspace as a sort of virtual reality" (or environment) whereby online activities take place (Frischmann, 2003, p. 206).

Literature on regulation theories pertaining to the Internet and cyberspace governance focus on which individuals, groups, businesses, organizations, and government agencies, regulate the Internet and cyberspace, and the way cyberspace and the Internet are regulated (Chang and Grabosky, 2017, p. 535; for more information on regulations theories, see Drahos, 2017). This view is supported in the literature, which holds that cyberspace and the Internet is regulated by, for example, laws, computer programming code, system architecture, and Internet architecture (Lessig, 2006); individuals, businesses, and organizations with or without some form of government involvement (i.e., a type of self-regulation, see Braithwaite, 1982); and individuals, businesses, and organisations sharing responsibility for governance (i.e., distributed security, see Brenner, 2005) (for more information, see Chang and Grabosky, 2017, pp. 535-542).

According to the World Summit on the Information Society (WGIG), a global forum organized by the United Nations, Internet governance refers to "the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet" (WGIG, 2005, p. 4; see also Kurbalija, 2014, p. 5). Mueller (2010) stated that Internet governance does not primarily lie with "formal policy-making institutions;" instead, "most of the real-world governance of the Internet is decentralized and emergent…[,] it comes from the interactions of tens of thousands of network operators and service providers - and sometimes users themselves - who are connected through the Internet" (p. 9). The Internet impacts global interests and its governance "includes more than Internet names and addresses, issues dealt with by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); it also includes other significant public policy issues, such as critical Internet resources, the security and safety of the Internet, and developmental aspects and issues pertaining to the use of the Internet" (WGIG, 2005, p. 4). For these reasons, a single entity cannot and has not been designated as an international governance body (Reich et al., 2014). Instead, the Internet is primarily governed internationally by multiple stakeholders - government, the private sector, academia, and civil society - covering a range of technical and non-technical issues. Nevertheless, countries vary in terms of their views on which stakeholders should play a primary role in Internet governance. While some countries believe that multiple stakeholders should be responsible for Internet governance, other countries believe that Internet governance should be the exclusive domain of the state (for further information see, Masters, 2014; Chang and Grabosky, 2017).

Did you know?

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) includes resources for issues relating to Internet governance.

Learn more: Internet Governance Forum. (n.d.). Publications & Reports.

Even if countries agree on the stakeholders responsible for Internet governance, other barriers exist to universal Internet governance due to differences in countries' criminal justice systems and laws (see Cybercrime Module 3) and positions on cultural, religious, social, and political issues (see Cybercrime Modules 2, 3 and 10) (Chang, 2012; Chang, 2011; Whitmore, Choi, and Arzrumtsyan, 2009). While the overarching aim of Internet governance is countries' shaping of the Internet together, the reality is that countries diverge on how this shaping should occur. This is observed in countries' variation in their respect of some underlying principles of the Internet, such as freedom (i.e., information can be accessed and shared "without reasonable restriction"), openness (i.e., unobstructed flow of information online), interoperability (i.e., capability of different digital devices and computer systems to connect, communicate, and exchange data), security (i.e., protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of systems, networks, services, and data), and resiliency (i.e., maintenance of operations during disruptions and changing conditions) (Negroponte, Palmisano, and Segal, 2013; OECD Principles of Internet Policy Making of 2014; African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms of 2014; UNESCO, 2015; Morgus and Sherman, 2018, pp. 10-13). The Internet has evolved from a platform for information exchange and sharing - consistent with the principle of openness - to a platform for social interactions, trade and commerce, and delivery of government services (Lessig, 1999; Chang and Grabosky, 2017). At the same time, Internet and ICT have been, and continue to be, misused and abused by threat agents and malevolent actors enabling the growth of cybercrimes, thus, the need for security.

Certain countries neither adhere to nor promote some of these principles (Morgus and Sherman, 2018). For example, some countries emphasize and prioritize security at the expense of the principles of freedom and openness (Morgus and Sherman, 2018, p. 14). Other countries do not subscribe to openness, depriving citizens' access to information from outside of their countries. In addition, countries, who otherwise support Internet principles, have engaged in actions that conflict with one or more of these principles. For instance, net neutrality, which promotes openness by requiring all data, irrespective of source, to be treated equally (see also definitions in legal frameworks; for example, Article 3 of Brazil Federal Law 12,965 of 2014), may not be enforced, enabling Internet service providers to block or throttle data, as well as offer fast lanes for data (i.e., paid prioritization) (Shepardson, 2018). What is more, tensions exist in the implementation of or adherence to these principles. Cases in point are openness and security; a firewall, a security measure, restricts the free flow of information - that is, openness - by blocking unauthorized traffic data. Here, the blocking of unauthorized network traffic (incoming information flow) by the firewall occurs to ensure the security of the system and network.

Did you know?

Freedom House has an interactive online map ( Freedom on the Net 2018 Map) that shows which countries have "free", partially free or restricted access to the Internet.

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