Media: Europe calls for less US power over Internet


Regulators and lawmakers across Europe have welcomed proposals from the European Commission to cut back US domination of the Web.

Michiel Willems, 20.02.2014 Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for the digital agenda in Europe, said last week that regulation and control of the Web should be made more international, with a less central role for the United States. The EU’s top voice for digital issues argued that recent revelations of large-scale surveillance have “called into question the stewardship of the US” when it comes to Internet governance, as many Europeans have lost confidence in the Internet and its present governance. “Given the US-centric model of Internet governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet,” said Kroes. She singled out the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, which she called “not negotiable.” Kroes presented a number of proposals that challenge American dominance of key Internet infrastructure. The most important suggestion focuses on international regulation of domain name allocation, a role currently fulfilled by the US-based nonprofit organization the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Brussels-based Nigel Hickson, vice president of for Europe at ICANN, said the organization embraced the comments from Kroes. “Internet governance needs to be global and needs a multi-stakeholder approach so everyone can share their views,” Hickson told this news service. NSA spying Hickson said it was “undeniable” that the recent surveillance practices of the NSA have sparked a discussion about Internet governance. He thinks this should be seen as an opportunity to create a better framework around the Web. “In the past it was difficult to get politicians to understand what Internet governance was; now they are falling over themselves to discuss it, so I think we will see enhanced attention paid to what is happening on the Internet,” he said. Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament and a European digital rights campaigner, noted that the globalization and decentralization of ICANN has already started as the organization has opened new offices in Turkey and Singapore. Hickson acknowledged that “the challenge for ICANN is to enhance the globalization process already under way.” According to Kroes, an online platform should be launched that encourages transparency on Internet policies and a number of other projects should be initiated marking a shift toward a more international control of the Web. She warned against national governments having too much power, as they might curb fundamental freedoms and human rights and hamper innovation, in countries such as China, Iran, Egypt and Russia. “Governments have a crucial role to play, but top-down approaches are not the right answer. We must strengthen the multi-stakeholder model to preserve the Internet as a fast engine for innovation,” the European heavyweight said. The Wall Street Journal observed in an editorial comment that Kroes’ views are not too far off from the current US position, as the American government has already indicated it favors a more international system of Internet governance. The US, however, has not made clear how much of the current indirect control it has via the functions of ICANN it is willing to give up. Schaake said there is “a key role” for big companies, such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook, as “they have great influence, but [are] not always accountable.” She urged the European Union and other authorities to enforce laws on competition, human rights, fundamental freedoms and Net neutrality. Clarifying the legal complexities and uncertainties which exist online is another step to take, Schaake said, as “there is a growing tension between the Web, hyper-connectivity and laws that are rooted in the nation state.” Going forward Kroes called for a clear timeline to pursue any change in Web regulation and said she would set up a committee to speed up globalized key decision-making. The group would act as an “honest broker” in any future negotiations regarding Internet governance. “The next two years will be critical in redrawing the global map of Internet governance,” Kroes said. “Europe must contribute to a credible way forward for global Internet governance … [and] play a strong role in defining what the net of the future looks like.” Hickson said that a global ICANN conference on the future of Internet governance, which takes place in São Paulo, Brazil, on April 23 and 24, would be “an ideal time for key stakeholders to come together and discuss the issues raised.” During that meeting, representatives from the private sector, academia, the technical community and civil society will focus on crafting Internet governance principles and aim to propose a roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem, Hickson said. When contacted by this news service, a press officer for Kroes said the European Commission would study any recommendations made by ICANN. She could not confirm whether Kroes would attend or send a representative to the summit in Brazil.