EU to review internet governance in bid to wrest control from US

By Graeme Burton
19 Feb 2014 View Comments
European Union red tape

The European Commission is to launch an in-depth review to study how different national laws and jurisdictions conflict online, with a view to leading an international alignment of internet governance.

It follows what the Commission has identified as "a number of contradictory legal decisions" relating to online laws across Europe, combined with the "sheer quantity of cross-border transactions of various types which take place online".

Further reading

The proposal was made in a European Commission policy document (PDF) released last week covering internet governance.

"Recently, conflicting visions on the future of the internet and on how to strengthen its multi-stakeholder governance in a sustainable manner have intensified," states the document.

"Moreover, revelations of large-scale surveillance programmes and a fear of cybercrime have negatively affected trust in the internet.

"Taken together, a continued loss of confidence in the internet and its current governance could slow down innovation and the growth of European internet companies.

"It could also lead to pressure for new regional and national governance structures that might lead to a fragmentation of the internet."

The European Commission's aim, it claims, is to provide a basis for a "common European vision" for internet governance, which it aims to promote globally:

  • To defend and promote fundamental rights and democratic values, and multi-stakeholder governance structures based on clear rules that respect those rights and values;
  • As a single, un-fragmented network, subject to the same laws and norms that apply in other areas of our day-to-day lives; and where individuals can benefit from their rights, and from judicial remedies when those rights are infringed;
  • Governed by a genuine multi-stakeholder model: 
    • where the necessary inter-governmental discussions are anchored in a multi-stakeholder context in the full understanding that the internet is built and maintained by a variety of stakeholders, as well as governments;
    • where decisions are taken on the basis of principles of good governance, including transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness of all relevant stakeholders; 
  • With a strengthened and reformed Internet Governance Forum;
  • With a globalised Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

However, critics will see it as another push by the European Union not just to take more control of the internet and internet governance across Europe, but worldwide - especially with its calls for an "internet governance forum".

Such attempts to wrest control of the internet away from US-based organisations were made at the last World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai in December 2012, but fiercely resisted because of fears that it would pass control to representatives of genuinely repressive governments.

However, recent revelations of internet surveillance by the National Security Agency from whistleblower Edward Snowden has undermined US authority on internet governance matters.

The Commission is primarily looking to create more uniformity in international laws governing the internet and commerce conducted over the internet.

"At the international level, conflict rules are insufficiently developed, leading to unsolved conflicts of laws beyond the Union. In particular for internet related services that are inherently cross-border in nature, such as cloud-computing services, this complexity at international level can be harmful for growth," claims the Commission.

The paper concludes with a call for a united European Union approach to internet governance - i.e. one centrally led by the Commission - to "defend it jointly in the forthcoming international debates".

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