European Affairs

Perspectives: 2015 Will be a Year of Transition for Internet Governance     Print Email
By Patricia Paoletta, Partner at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, LLP

patricia paolettaLate last year the Republic of Korea hosted the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference, commonly known as the Plenipot, in Busan, South Korea. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is an organ of the United Nations and meets every four years at a Plenipot to discuss any possible amendments to its foundational texts – its Constitution and Convention. Last month, The European Institute hosted a special program called The Busan Consensus: A Turning Point at which U.S. Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, who led the U.S. delegation, gave the Korean hosts high praise for facilitating a successful outcome, from U.S. perspective, that emphasized private sector management of the Internet.

December also brought tidings of concern that North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic) may have arranged the hacking of Sony Pictures in retaliation for its planned release of the comedy on Kim Jong-un, The Interview. The two actions, from countries divided geographically only by the 38th Parallel, provides a dramatic contrast in approaches by governments on Internet policy. In late December, North Korea’s Internet nodes suffered from several days’ disruption.

The Sony hack – and the U.S. government’s suspected response -- challenges not just Hollywood insiders but U.S. policymakers who have long called for multi-stakeholder management of the Internet, with the private sector firmly at the center of its core functions. While the disruption of North Korean nodes could be helpful in preventing copycat attacks to suppress political content, the suspected USG cyber response will provide another challenge to ICT policymakers in calling for a central private sector role, and minimal governmental intrusion.

Ambassador Sepulveda has coined the term The Busan Consensus presumably to distinguish his performance at the Plenipot from his predecessor’s at the WCIT (the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications) two years ago, at which Members found themselves in the unusual position of having to vote on a proposal to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations to address not just telecom, but Internet issues. The U.S. and Europe opposed the expansion of the Regulations, but ended up in the minority.

Ambassador Sepulveda has stated that all four goals of the U.S. were met at the Plenipot – no changes to the Constitution and Convention to expand the ITU’s role on Internet content or core functionality; no expansion of the ITU’s role on Internet Governance or cybersecurity through new or revised Resolutions; fiscal and transparency reforms; and the election of U.S. representatives in leadership roles.

While no changes were agreed to the Constitution or Convention in Busan, some would argue that revisions made to the ITU Resolutions do in fact expand its remit into Internet functions. And proposals that would give governments and the ITU a greater role in Internet routing, surveillance, or allocation of IP addresses by nation from the likes of India and China – while successfully diverted at the Plenipot -- will likely surface in other forums this year.

Ambassador Sepulveda and U.S. companies participating in the global dialogue on Internet Governance will have their work cut out for them in 2015, beginning this month in Davos. This year, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Meeting in Switzerland will include a multi-stakeholder endeavor to stimulate more cross-industry and cross-ministry strategic dialogue on ways to strengthen multi-stakeholder Internet Governance ‎and cooperation. The Davos meeting is part of the NETMundial Initiative, to crowd-source solutions for distributed Internet Governance, in the lead up to the expiration of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s contract in September with the Internet Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers (ICANN) to manage the Domain Name System (DNS) functions for the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).  [1]

ICANN and the WEF intended the NETMundial Initiative to promote greater cooperation among stakeholders, towards the goal of the Internet as a shared, neutral, and global resource. The Department will be reviewing proposals from ICANN to see if they meet Commerce’s stated criteria for transitioning ICANN from direct Commerce oversight of the IANA contract to operation on its own. Those criteria include not replacing Commerce’s role with an inter-governmental organization. Rather, Commerce has said it will only accept broadly supported proposals for DNS management by a multi-stakeholder entity. But calls for more government control of naming and numbering could be raised at a number of fora over the year, including those at the ITU and at other bodies of the United Nations, such as the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in April, ECOSOC’s Committee on Science and Technology Development (CSTD) in early May, or the WSIS Forum in late May and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in in November. WSIS – formally known as the World Summit on the Information Society – was first convened by the UN a decade ago, and pressure is mounting from developing countries for the enhanced cooperation on Internet Governance they believed was promised, beyond the creation of the IGF at the first WSIS.

Ambassador Sepulveda said in December at the European Institute panel that the U.S. succeeded in meeting its goals at Busan because his delegation had a common mission to empower individuals at the edge of the network to fulfill whatever lawful purpose they wished to pursue, within the construct of fundamental human rights. In light of the possibly punitive USG cyber response to the Sony hack, he will have an added hurdle in 2015 convincing his partners that the U.S. shares the NETMundial Initiative goals that the Internet be “a shared, neutral, and global resource for human solidarity and economic progress.” As global tensions rise from both cyber and physical attacks such as on the satirical publication Charlie in Paris, there will be increased calls for more government control of the Internet for surveillance and counter-terrorism measures. 2015 will be a year in transition at many levels, and the U.S. will need support from like-minded allies around the globe and involvement of industry to maintain a fragile consensus that the Internet should be managed by the wider stakeholder community, and not be an amalgam of top-down, closed networks controlled by governments.

Patricia Paoletta is a partner at the law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP in Washington, D.C., which represents companies involved in these issues. Paoletta is former Telecommunications Trade Director at the U.S. Trade Representative.

[1]The IANA functions include: (1) the coordination of the assignment of Internet protocol parameters; (2) the processing of change requests to the authoritative root zone file of the DNS – akin to a phone book for the Internet -- and root key signing key (KSK) management; (3) the allocation of Internet numbering resources; and (4) other services related to the management of the ARPA and INT top-level domains (TLDs).

 
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