Public 'left out' as governments plot Internet regulation

The UN's new policy on Internet governance is alarming some parts of the Web community
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
Individual Internet users are being frozen out of a key debate on the future governance of the Internet, Web visionary Esther Dyson warned on Friday.

Dyson -- a founder chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) -- told a debate in London that the United Nations is taking the wrong approach to Internet regulation.

"I feel the process is going off the rails," Dyson told the audience at the debate organised by the Oxford Internet Institute and the Internet Society UK.

The UN recently announced that its members had agreed that the Internet was a global 'facility' whose management should be 'multilateral, transparent and democratic'. To this end, the UN has set up the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) to spend 12 months consulting and reporting on the way ahead.

According to Dyson, WGIG is not the right way to address the problems facing the Internet.

"When you concentrate power, whether it's the low-rent, measly power ICANN had, or full-blown global governmental power, that focus of power attracts the wrong people," Dyson said.

"People who are self-appointed to represent other people are there, governments are there, the private sector is there, but the world at large isn't."

Marcus Kummer, who chaired the negotiating group that agreed the UN's text and is now leading the WGIG, defended the UN's work.

"There is room for cooperation, there is room for the exchange of views, and there is a role for the UN," he responded.

But Adam Peake, representing the Centre for Global Communications, a research institute based in Japan, agreed that there is a risk that some members of the global Internet community could be disenfranchised from the WGIG process.

"Not everyone can go to Magnus' meetings in Geneva," Peake pointed out.

"Everyone must be able to participate, if not in person than remotely or through submitted comments, and that should be in their local language," said Peake, pointing out that languages such as Japanese and German were not 'official' UN languages.

Dyson also argued that it was a mistake to seriously consider centralising the global regulation of the Internet.

"The question of how we stop spam is much different from the question of how we allocate domain names," she said. "We need to address these problems separately."

WGIG is planning to produce a report on Internet governance by next July. This process should involve consultation worldwide. Kummer suggested that this would be a mammoth job, when he said that WGIG was "definitely a travelling roadshow, if not a flying circus".

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