For the online world to continue to grow and prosper, we need to ensure integrity and policy coherence.
By Peter M. Robinson
Reading the news recently – with social media’s explosive role in the Arab spring, increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks, and recurring uproars over privacy – you might think the Internet is flying apart in all directions.
But in fact, things are converging. The world is increasingly data-driven. Public reliance on the global Internet as a channel for essential communication and information has increased exponentially. Cross-border data flows continue to grow, as does the proliferation of mobile devices. This means that how the Internet is managed is now everybody’s business.
So it’s important that we all – businesses, governments, consumers, everyone – look closely at proposals to shift responsibility for Internet governance away from the multi-stakeholder model, which has held sway for over a decade, toward a more government-dominated approach.
This will be a core topic at December’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai. The treaty conference is convened by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union, and many have voiced concern at proposals by Russia and some Arab countries to increase the ITU’s authority. As an alternative, USCIB and its sister business organizations around the world are pushing hard to maintain and reinforce a vibrant multi-stakeholder model.
Why? In two words, interoperability and integrity. By interoperability, we mean policy coherence, ensuring that national and regional policy regimes work in concert with each other. By integrity, we mean avoiding the fragmentation of the global Internet into many separate networks. The digital economy can’t function without both of these, and with more and more of our lives now taking place online, neither could a lot of things.
To ensure continued interoperability, USCIB and allied groups are engaging closely with policymakers to update the OECD’s privacy guidelines, the international standard for privacy protection, which date to 1980, before the widespread use of personal computers, much less the Internet, cloud computing and the rise of “big data,” in a way that maintains the original, and still useful principles.
We are also focusing business attention on proposed new privacy regulations in the European Union, which have the potential – if done right – to harmonize rules and increase legal certainty throughout Europe. But if done wrong, the new rules could hamper Europe’s economic recovery and prove difficult to implement.
And business is also closely engaged in discussions surrounding a new White House “consumer privacy bill of rights” and related U.S. efforts to promote online security and innovation. We are heartened that the Obama administration has recognized the importance of ensuring international interoperability, including recently agreed OECD Internet principles and APEC cross-border privacy rules to which USCIB and business have contributed mightily (see the last issue of International Business).
Equally important, we are working hard to ensure the continued integrity of the global Internet and fight back against efforts to fragment it. This will be important as we approach the WCIT conference, and also at the UN’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which takes place in November in Baku, Azerbaijan. The IGF has been an essential bulwark for the multi-stakeholder approach, engaging business, civil society and the Internet technical community along with governments in discussions on a range of Internet policy issues, and focusing on building capacity across all groups to address challenges and ensure continued growth, investment and innovation.
WCIT has the potential to open the door for greater government involvement, via the ITU, in regulating the Internet, for example through proposals to broaden the definition of “telecommunications” to encompass the entire Internet. Such proposals may seem incremental, but they would really prove revolutionary and quite damaging.
Business believes that the existing ITU mandate is sufficient for it to continue to perform its essential work in regulating global telecommunications – traditionally a heavily regulated field, after all. But the Internet has grown and prospered, and we along with it, precisely because it has been lightly regulated and effectively governed via the multi-stakeholder model. Now is not the time to throw that all away.
As a broad-based, multi-sectoral organization with links to essential global policy platforms, USCIB has long played a vanguard role in representing industry in this critical area. We look forward to working with our members to promote a dynamic and secure Internet.
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