Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

International? Transnational? Independent?

Just about the time it seems like nearly all the actors on the international stage are nation states, something else pops up.

We the networks
IF A satirist were to create a parody of an international conference, amping up the insularity and tedious intricacies for comic effect, he might come up with something rather like the meeting… in Marrakech. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as ICANN, will bring together 1,300 participants for 346 sessions…

Barring any last-minute hiccups, though, something remarkable will happen at the meeting. After two years of negotiations, ICANN is set to agree on a reform that would turn it into a new kind of international organisation. If this goes ahead, a crucial global resource, the internet’s address system, will soon be managed by a body that is largely independent of national governments…

The beauty of the internet is its openness. As long as people stick to its technical standards, anybody can add a new branch or service. For everything to connect, though, the network needs a central address book, which includes domain names… and internet-protocol addresses…

That is why, as the internet grew up, America decided not to hand control to the United Nations or another international body steered by governments. Instead, in 1998 it helped create ICANN, a global organisation that gives a say to everybody with an interest in the smooth running of the network…

Most were happy with the arrangement at first. But American oversight came to seem odd as the internet grew into a vast global resource with much traffic no longer passing over American cables. Then came revelations that the National Security Agency had spied on internet users in America and elsewhere…

The new ICANN will resemble a state, says Thomas Rickert of eco, Germany’s internet association and co-chairman of one of the main negotiation committees.

It will have a government (the organisation’s board), a constitution (its by-laws, which include its mission and “core values”), a judiciary (an “independent review process”, which leads to binding recommendations) and a citizenry of sorts (half-a-dozen “supporting organisations” and “advisory committees”, which represent the different interest groups). These will have the right to kick out the board and block its budget.

Dissenting governments and recalcitrant [American] Republicans notwithstanding, an independent ICANN is not only likely to come to pass but also to become a model for other sorts of internet governance…. Without generally accepted global rules, governments are bound to create their own, even if these cannot be implemented. “Multi-stakeholder” outfits like ICANN, where all opinions are aired, might well be the best hope to come up with rules that work…

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