Global research group to study how the Internet should be governed

Spencer Platt , Getty Images

TORONTO – A major independent commission, launched in part by a Canadian think tank, will spend the next two years tackling the digital world’s most complicated problem – how the Internet should be governed.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in partnership with UK-based think tank Chatham House, launched the Global commission on Internet Governance Wednesday.

The two-year initiative will examine four key issues including Internet governance, preserving innovation, ensuring rights online – including privacy rights and cyber-crime risks – and avoiding digital warfare and systemic risks.

“In most countries, increased attention is being given to all the issues of net freedom, net security and net governance. And they are, in my view, closely related to each other,” said Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and chair of the commission Carl Bildt.

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“The rapid evolution of the net has been made possible by the open and flexible model by which it has evolved and been governed. But increasingly this is coming under attack.”

The initiative is being launched at a time where issues of Internet freedom and security have become a hot-button topic around the world, due mostly to Edward Snowden’s Internet surveillance revelations.

READ MORE: What is PRISM? A cyber-surveillance explainer

“Internet governance is too important to be left just to governments. The Internet is a fundamental part of the global economy and how we manage its future will be decisive in facilitating development for all,” said Dr. Patricia Lewis, Research Director at Chatham House, in a statement.

“Finding a way through the issues of access, privacy, security, protection and surveillance requires in-depth consideration and the wisdom that the Global Commission will provide.”

Currently, the Internet is governed by a “multi-stakeholder” model – however, many key players involved in governing the Internet, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), are headquartered in the U.S.

ICANN oversees the distribution of unique identifiers on the web, such as domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

But in light of the revelations about the NSA, countries like Brazil have created plans to reroute Internet traffic to avoid the U.S. entirely – putting that system at risk.

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The commission also points to issues of Internet censorship as a threat to the current state of the Internet.

In a joint statement, the CIGI and Chatham House said, “a number of authoritarian states are waging a campaign to exert greater state control over critical Internet resources,” – alluding to places like China and Iran where Internet access is censored and government controlled.

The inquiry will be conducted by a 25 member panel consisting of politicians, academics, and intelligence officials.

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