Internet Governance: how to put the person at the centre ?
What is internet governance and why does it matter?
The governance of the internet is about ensuring that the Internet continues to deliver its benefits and it is shaped in a fair and inclusive way, on the basis of shared norms and principles.
Internet governance is becoming an increasingly complex field, due to the many players involved at local, national, regional and global level and the ever expanding number of issues discussed: from the management of critical technical resources and the development of standards, from security and trust online to access and digital literacy… And the list continues to grow, hand in hand with new technological advancements like Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. The delicate interplay of different needs and interests at stake make internet governance discussions particularly challenging.
Governments in particular need to encourage digital growth and development while at the same time having to balance diverging interests as regards privacy and human rights versus access to information and unhindered flow of data, competition issues and the disruption of old business models. They also have to respond to the growth of cybercrime. But this greater state involvement is not always compatible with the initial governance model of the internet, primarily led by the technical community and the private sector, which has expanded greatly over the years. Nor, in some cases, is it compatible with the open internet itself.
What principles and values are at stake?
Over the years an increasingly clear EU vision of internet governance has been developed. The internet should be open and free (freedom of expression, freedom of information) and the EU's ambition is to lead in the development of rules for the open internet. This includes ensuring the Internet remains a driving force for innovation and an international resource that benefits the European economy and citizens.
In this context, the EU is a stronghold of an open and free internet, firmly anchored in the defence of fundamental rights and the democratic rule of law. Building on the values the EU stands for (democracy, respect for human dignity, rule of law and human rights), the EU has an important role to make the internet open, trustworthy, free and safe by developing policies in the public interest. Beyond being a moral duty, the protection of fundamental rights is an obligation of the Lisbon Treaty and one of the basic tenets of EU law.
At the same time, over the last decade the Internet was fuelled by an explosion of new services, technologies, content and mobile devices. This dynamics will continue unabated as we move towards the European data economy, driven by a prolific Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and 5G around the corner.
However positive the technological scenario is, societal issues are real and growing, with lack of trust, lock-in effects and lack of choice, as well as an erosion of European values such as openness, privacy, security, diversity, inclusiveness and a level playing field for all. This poses a number of challenges in terms of governance.
What is the EU doing to protect and promote those principles and values?
These issues were not so evident 10 years ago but are now firmly established. With the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, bringing together research and policy perspectives, the Commission has started a reflection on how to shape the internet more to the benefit of human users. By introducing this “human-centricity” we aim at an internet which delivers more to people in their various roles (e.g. as citizen, Small and Medium sized entrepreneur, student or unemployed) than it does today. The idea is to contribute to an Internet that respects human and societal values, privacy, participation and diversity, and offers new functionalities to support people’s real needs and address global sustainability challenges.
Moreover, the potential of the internet to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been acknowledged by the United Nations. In this respect, the EU is committed to play a role in terms of closing the digital divide, capacity-building and awareness-raising to arrive at broader policy consensus. This is why the Commission is in the process of mainstreaming the use of digital technologies and services to broaden the reach of the EU’s Development Policy, by promoting digital solutions as part of the fight against poverty, inequality and resource scarcity with an initial focus on Africa.
Head of Sector in DG CONNECT, European Commission
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author and in no way represent the view of the European Commission and its services
The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.