Governing the Internet: Chaos, Control or Consensus?

About the series

Internet governance involves highly complex, transboundary governance challenges in a rapidly evolving technical environment. Identifying effective policy options that can balance competing interests and conflicting values requires foresight and analysis. Governing the Internet presents timely expert opinion from CIGI staff and a variety of guest authors on governance options across a range of vital Internet governance issues. 

In the Series

Governments, information and telecommunication companies, international organizations and humanitarian aid agencies are embracing data as a new tool that will revolutionize the way we address some of the world’s most serious problems, including food shortages and price volatility, financial crises, disease outbreaks and human rights violations.
We live in the age of information and privacy issues emerging from everyday situations — cellphones tracking our daily commute, electronic credit card payments, personal information being proudly disclosed on social networks — should be adequately protected by the institutions providing these services. As crime has moved into cyberspace and the frequency and costs of security breaches has increased, the response of governments has favoured mandatory data breach notification, a branch of policies that should be welcomed and encouraged. This is the most effective way to build and restore public trust in an increasingly interconnected world.
The World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) last December focussed popular attention on Internet governance. In reality, the WCIT was only the latest step in a gradual increase in policy attention to Internet-related issues. Executive and legislative branches of governments are joining a variety of actors involved in governing the Internet: international organizations like the International Telecommunication Union; and non-profit entities, associations and networks, including the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the World Wide Web Consortium, the Internet Engineering Task Force and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
The Internet, together with the information communications technology (ICT) that underpins it, is a critical national resource for governments, a vital part of national infrastructures and a key driver of economic growth. Over the last 40 years, and particularly since the year 2000, governments and businesses have embraced the Internet, and ICT’s potential to generate income and employment, provide access to businesses and information, enable e-learning and facilitate government activities.
Governance is established and mediated through law; however, the modern conception of law — that it is coextensive with books of statutes adopted by duly authorized, elected legislatures — fails to capture critical dimensions of law and legality as they apply to global governance. In practice, global governance is accomplished by a combination of “hard” and “soft” laws. Hard law, in the form of domestic statutes or international treaties, coexists alongside various forms of soft law, which are less binding, less precise and/or rely on less centralized forms of interpretation and enforcement.
The rapid growth of the Internet, and the risks and rewards this brings, are moving issues of cybersecurity and Internet governance to the forefront of policy debates around the world. As more people are connecting to the Internet and using it for myriad reasons, both public and private, and as infrastructure sectors such as energy, transport and water become interconnected, societal dependence on the Internet increases dramatically. How can this international ecosystem be adequately secured and governed? What might things look like in 2020?
Is the Internet inherently free and open? A broad array of actors, from civil libertarians and technical experts to Western militaries, think that it is, that it should be, or both. Whether these beliefs, frequently expressed by referring to the Internet as a commons, are correct has important implications for how the Internet is governed.
Massively multiplayer online (MMO) games are now an established segment of the global entertainment industry. One popular game, World of Warcraft, boasts several million worldwide subscribers. There is, however, another massively multiplayer game unfolding concerning the future governance of the Internet as a whole. The name of this game is rule making.