Internet Governance

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a multi-stakeholder policy forum instituted by the United Nations in 2006 with the general goal of “internet governance”.

From ARPANET to the NSF, the various agencies responsible for oversight of the development of the Internet to the 1990s had been almost exclusively attached to the United States government. During that decade, the growth of technology, the rise of commercial and private interests, as well as international concerns all drastically changed the capabilities, use, and nature of the online experience. Even before the turn of the century, concerns such as neutrality, openness, transparency, and a wide variety of rights issues begged the question: who, if anyone, should govern the Internet?

In 2000, law professor Yochai Benkler envisioned three layers of Internet governance. Fundamentally, the concrete layer of “physical infrastructure” houses or provides the medium for the flow of information. This would include not simply the hardware (the ‘tubes’?) through which information travels, but also the very air itself, in wireless communication. The second layer is a “logical layer” of “code”; the programming which provides the directions, the standards, and the control of the infrastructure. This would include such examples as TCP/IP, of course, but also the very systems of organization and structure that determine the virtual location of any given piece of data on the Internet. And finally, the content layer, the information itself (or, more precisely, the end result that can be shared by users; not simply the data, but the content that the data comprises).

So, for example, a website that sells pet products, like, in many respects owes its existence to the legacy enablers from the corresponding US agencies, government funded grants to universities (this is how Google got its start as well), and the corporations that provide the backbone of the internet. This means that when a search for “dog doors” results in a sale for this business, that success may even have its roots in the Department of Defense. And the entities that may eventually have a hand in the regulation of these transactions between websites and customers, while no longer involved in the development of these technologies, do need a world-wide reach, since dog doors are sold across country boundaries. And while pet products may not be an obvious target to safeguard, ALL interactions between individuals and corporations (or other governments), in the anonymous environment of the internet, may need oversight to protect both parties from inappropriate behavior, intentional or otherwise.

While it may be overly simplistic and confrontational to present the picture of “the US versus everyone else”, the recurring controversies concerning basic governance responsibilities tend to focus around the role of the US government, as well as US-based private businesses. ARPANET had been funded by the US Department of Defense, and the NSF and Department of Commerce had overseen its successor, the Internet, and all pertinent standards and protocols. The hardware and software companies, as well as other Internet-related industries, mainly began and grew within US borders; only in the past decade have the potential negative implications of this concentration of interest become a matter of concern.

** Update **
Since the creation of this agency by the United nations we are pleased to report that it has been more than effective against the problems we wished to safeguard in the first place. It has been an overwhelming success & has fulfilled its duty thus far. Due to the nature of the Internet they must be ever vigilant that the issues which they guard against are suppressed. This is something of a controversy in the eyes of some people but it is a necessary evil.