Corporate Responsibility and Global Internet Governance

Chronological Thread 
  • From: David Sullivan <dsullivan@xxx>
  • To: <wcit-public@xxx>
  • Subject: Corporate Responsibility and Global Internet Governance
  • Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2012 09:22:05 -0400

Please see the following contribution from the Global Network Initiative. The full policy brief is available on our website at:  

Corporate Responsibility and Global Internet Governance

A Global Network Initiative Policy Brief[1]

October 2012

This December in Dubai, world governments will gather to renegotiate a key treaty under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency that specializes in global telecommunications. The meeting, known as the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), has been billed as a mortal threat to Internet freedom, a rare opportunity to fix inequitable flaws in the existing global economic framework for communications infrastructure, and all or none of the above.

Although there is a real risk that authoritarian states will use this process to seek greater government control over the Internet, it would be a mistake to turn the WCIT into a referendum on UN involvement in Internet governance. The UN already plays a key role through the international human rights system, and by supporting discussion venues like the Internet Governance Forum. The problem is that the opaque ITU process, which is largely closed to civil society participation, presents opportunities for governments to pursue politically motivated policies at the expense of users and innovators alike. Although companies and governments have legitimate reasons to cooperate on Internet policy, when this happens behind closed doors without adequate safeguards the human rights of users can be put at risk.

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) was formed to develop standards and an accountability framework for information and communications technology (ICT) companies faced with government requests impacting free _expression_ and privacy rights, and to strengthen efforts to work with governments to advance these rights globally. Based on this experience, we offer the following recommendations for governments and other stakeholders to consider:

1.     Embrace international human rights standards. They provide an objective baseline that is universally acknowledged, even if governments do not always live up to them.

2.     Ensure multi-stakeholder collaboration. Pool the collective expertise of informed stakeholders and allow civil society to check company and government action that may infringe on rights.

3.     Enhance transparency. Committing to a system of transparency with the public provides credibility and accountability. 

Internet governance and policy is a complex subject that is unsuited to top-down, government-dominated structures. Taken together, human rights standards, multi-stakeholder collaboration, and transparency are necessary safeguards against increased government control of the Internet, and also offer practical opportunities to improve the existing system.

[1] This document draws on discussion in a July 2012 GNI learning call on the ITU as well as feedback and suggestions from GNI’s Policy and Learning Committee. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of GNI’s participants.

David Sullivan
Policy and Communications Director
Global Network Initiative
Office: +1 202 407 8831
Cell: +1 646 595 5373