CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
New directions in internet governance research
Article Type: Guest editorial From: info, Volume 15, Issue 6
This Special Issue of info contains papers selected from the Seventh Annual Symposium of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet), which took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November 2012. Each year, GigaNet holds its annual symposium in conjunction with the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The IGF was one of the main outcomes of the UNs World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) from 2002 to 2005. WSIS could be characterized as an event that reflected the sudden realization by the worlds governments that the internet had become one of the primary venues, if not the pre-eminent venue, for defining public policy issues related to communication and information. Thus, WSIS raised, for the first time in an intergovernmental context, many of the geopolitical and international policy concerns that we still debate today:
censorship and content regulation;
control of critical internet resources such as domain names and IP addresses;
the role of governmental control and private sector self-regulation, security and privacy; and
access to broadband.
Unable to come to agreement on most of these issues, the concluding statement of the summit, known as the Tunis Agenda, did agree to create an open, multi-stakeholder forum to meet annually so that governments, business, international organizations and civil society could come together to discuss them.
As the IGF was being created, a group of academics who had been deeply involved in WSIS, ICANN and other new internet governance institutions and processes, decided that a specialized organization was needed to support and develop scholarly work on the complex, thorny issues of global Internet governance. Thus, GigaNet was founded in 2006 as a network of researchers involved in global internet governance. It held its first symposium the day before the first IGF meeting in Athens and it has followed that pattern of pre-events ever since. GigaNets objectives are to promote the development of internet governance as a recognized, interdisciplinary field of study; to advance theoretical and applied research on internet governance, broadly defined; and to facilitate informed dialogue on policy issues between scholars and Internet governance stakeholders (governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society).
As in previous years, GigaNets 2012 symposium provided room to debate urgent and current matters of internet governance as well as the annual theme of the IGF from an academic perspective. Thus, the topics discussed at the symposium and present in this special issue ranged from the governance of critical Internet resources, the influence of technology on privacy concerns and the interplay of discourses, actors and policy-making.
The first contribution of this Special Issue, by Milton Mueller, Brenden Kuerbis and Hadi Ashari focuses on the emergence of a trading market for previously allocated internet number blocks. Unique internet protocol numbers are a critical resource without which the internet does not work. The original internet protocol standard, known as IPv4, specified a 32-bit numbering space, which provided slightly less than four billion unique numbers. The available supply is dwindling fast, owing to a growing internet. Recent market developments and policy changes by internet number registries now allow organizations with excess numbers to sell them to another organization. This is a major change in the political economy of internet governance. The authors provide the first empirical contribution to the discussion on the economics and institutions of IP addressing. The paper draws on the records of the regional internet registries (RIRs) to compile information about traded IP number blocks, and conducts a basic analysis of stocks, flows and proportions to assess the nature of this emerging market and explore some of its implications for internet governance.
The last three contributions of this Special Issue look at technical and regulatory issues from a different angle by acknowledging the central place of language and discourse in policy processes. Although empirical analyses in the field of internet governance increasingly take into account arguments and perceptions to explain policy outcomes, the assessment of political discourses is often focused on content-oriented or actor-oriented approaches. These analyses tend to overlook the dynamics that characterize policy discourses and the related policy-making processes. The articles in this Special Issue propose instead to examine the interconnections of actors and meaning creation in political and technical debates on the internet.
Roxana Radus contribution explores the meanings given to security in cyberspace from a politico-military perspective in the United Nations (UN). The international institutional architecture for cybersecurity activities is currently dominated by a multiplicity of initiatives aimed at increasing cooperation at the international level, as well as by a redefinition of the roles played by existent actors; so far no new entity has been empowered to handle security in cyberspace. Therefore, Radu investigates the resolutions issued by two of the most active UN bodies in this field: the UN General Assembly (between 1998 and 2001) and the International Telecommunication Union (in 2010). She reviews the current debate regarding the role of the state in securing cyberspace by analyzing how the wording of relevant paragraphs concerning cybersecurity shaped the entitlement to participation in the governance of this new issue domain. Her main findings reveal that, in spite of the numerous resolutions in the General Assembly, the lack of an official definition of cybersecurity hampered the development of an integrated vision for protecting cyberspace. In addition, the shift from a state-centric perspective to a multi-stakeholder approach is yet to be fully completed, and different instances of contestation can be currently observed.
Instead of looking on debates taking place in political institutions, Yana Breindl approaches the dynamics of meaning creation by analyzing discursive strategies of various actors as represented in the media. Her contribution analyses the position of actors concerning state mandated website blocking measures of sexual child images, typically referred to as “child pornography. Therefore, Breindl investigates, in Germany and France, the evolution of actors discourses and claims during the period in which both countries examined legislative measures. Using discourse network analysis to assess the development of actors and ideas as represented in newspaper articles, her study focuses on the possibilities for critics of mandatory internet blocking to challenge the discursive frames proposed by power elites. The comparative perspective enabled her to assess the similarities and differences of the global debate on internet filtering at a national level. Accordingly, her findings show how in Germany, through the establishment of discourse coalitions, the frames articulated by opponents of internet blocking and their criticism of the effectiveness of the proposals were eventually adopted by the proponents of legislation. In contrast, in France activists were less successful as their debates remained largely confined to online media and had less influence on the broader policy agenda, which linked the discourse on internet blocking to security issues.
The last contribution, by Sandra Braman, takes the analysis of discursive influence on policy- and law-making even one step further by investigating the ways in which actors involved in the first decade of the internet design process identified and conceptualized specific legal and policy issues, and the technological and social problems giving rise to them. She therefore assesses the Internet Requests for Comments (RFCs), the technical document series that records the history of how explicit and implicit discussion of legal and policy issues were affected by and incorporated into decisions made in the course of the Internet design process. Analyzing how the modes of legal governance and types of legal instruments pertinent to the resolution of the identified issues were addressed in the RFCs, Braman provides insight into the origins of the particular ways in which Internet architecture has law-like effects on networked communication and practices.
1. To get involved in GigaNet, prospective members can visit its website at: http://giga-net.org/
Leo Van Audenhove
Professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
Professor at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, NY, USA