A Global Digital Magna Carta? Maybe, But First Identify Needs, Panel Says13/04/2015 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.NEW YORK – A recent panel of internet governance experts was divided on whether a primary global set of principles protecting the balance of power on the internet is needed.the Magna Carta being signedThe event, entitled, “A Digital Magna Carta: Internet Governance and a new Social Contract,” was organised on 26 March by the New America Foundation New York and the Swiss government. The discussion was prompted by a recent call by World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee for a “Digital Magna Carta.”Speakers included: Jovan Kurbalija, director of the Geneva-based Diplo Foundation and Geneva Internet Platform; Constance Bommelaer, senior director for global policy partnerships at the Internet Society; Olivier Sylvain, associate professor of law, Fordham University; George Sadowsky, member of the Internet Governance Forum series, and board member at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); and Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder and chief research and development officer of the Governance Lab.The event website set out the debate as: “Many have suggested the adoption of a new ‘digital social contract’, with Tim Berners-Lee calling for a Digital Magna Carta. How can the globalisation of ICANN be achieved? Can we strike the delicate balance between ongoing innovation for the Internet and the public interests of security?”The 2014 TED talk on the Digital Magna Carta idea from Tim Berners-Lee, who led the team that developed the World Wide Web at CERN in Geneva years ago, states: “Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web 25 years ago. So it’s worth a listen when he warns us: There’s a battle ahead. Eroding net neutrality, filter bubbles and centralizing corporate control all threaten the web’s wide-open spaces. It’s up to users to fight for the right to access and openness. The question is, What kind of Internet do we want?”This year is being celebrated as the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, based on the version signed by King John of England at Runnymede in 1215. The Magna Carta, more than any other document, “served as the basis for democracy and individual rights and people empowering the government instead of the king dictating to the people,” as a US attorney put it in a recent news story.In a time when powerful interests are working to gain control over the internet and users’ rights are imperilled, it is fair to ask whether a Digital Magna Carta is needed for the world to follow.Verhulst led off the event by noting that there is a steady increase in the importance and development of internet governance, and listed a range of hot issues in the news during the week of the conference alone.“Internet governance is alive and well, but also an area of growing tension,” due to a lack of structure for dealing with some issues, he said. “There is this need to have a set of principles.”Bommelaer, a former French government official, offered perhaps the strongest doubts on the need for new principles. “That question is debatable,” she said, adding that all of the news items raised by Verhulst are related to different types of existing principles and laws. She suggested first to look at the applicability of existing principles, such as human rights, and how to apply them and ensure they are effectively respected.Bommelaer said the Internet Society recently conducted a survey on internet governance and found respondents overwhelmingly want more information and a better understanding of what internet governance is.Sadowsky highlighted the success demonstrated by the fact that half of the world is on the internet after 20 years, and it will keep climbing with mobile technology. He gave the traditional view that the internet offers the opportunity for equal access for all.He also highlighted the continual evolution of new internet-oriented business models (like Uber). He acknowledged the serious problem of malicious behaviour on the internet, still a problem arising from the absence of security features in the original internet.Kurbalija noted the high dependence the world has on the internet now, and the greater recognition internet governance has. He said, for instance, when he started in this field, students not understanding what he did would even come to him with IT questions such as problems with their printer, which doesn’t happen anymore.He also mentioned a recent visit to the US Supreme Court where he noticed a panel on the large door that showed the Magna Carta, an exhibition of the balance of power.But he cautioned that care must be taken in trying to address current problems, as new problems may be created by trying to solve existing ones. He gave the vivid example of the unintended consequence of the German flight that was driven into the Alps because the pilot door’s anti-terrorism locks prevented anyone from accessing the cabin to stop the rogue pilot.Sylvain noted that Africans getting cell phones do not have the same range of advantages that people in developed countries do. He also said there is a fascination with the internet, but in the end it is just one resource “we are fighting over.”An audience member contended later that prices for access in developing countries is being made too expensive by corporations, and access is not equal to developed countries.On which principles might be needed, speakers had several suggestions. Verhulst said there already has been a proliferation of principles from various sources and organisations, like the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the United Nations, both in 2012.Bommelaer went further to note other organisations working on principles, such as the Human Rights Council (which this week approved a mandate for a special rapporteur on the right to privacy in the digital age). Also, at the end of 2015 there will be a 10-year review of the principles agreed at the 2015 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), she noted. Involving all stakeholder is critical to any effort, she said.Sylvain said these principles have always been important, such as freedom of speech, privacy, and security. Kobalija also noted that a number of principles repeat in the various venues, such as openness and privacy. He described King John of the Digital Era, putting the sword in the Magna Carta as perhaps not the best analogy.Speakers also discussed the current debate over “multistakeholderism,” which some likened to an ideology or religion at this point, though the concept has been there all along with the internet under other terms (like participation or involvement).Sadowsky called the Magna Carta a “lousy analogy” and said a “constitutional convention” might work better. “What we need is a way of understanding internet governance better,” he said, citing various publications and graphics that have been used to show how the various stakeholders relate to one another.Sadowsky made a distinction between governance “of” the internet (the technical aspect of keeping packets flowing) and governance “on” the internet (old forms of governance in a new environment).“If it didn’t exist before the internet, then its governance of the internet,” he said. Concepts that do not work on the internet are national borders and making policy country-based, he added.On multistakeholderism, Sadowsky said wryly that when takes the bus home from the event, he does not want every stakeholder involved in the driving, rather he wants the bus driver to do it. The same is true for ensuring the packets arrive on the internet, he said. What is important is to ensure all aspects of judicial governance work as well in the online environment as offline.Sylvain contended slightly with this, saying essentially that the bus driver is there by virtue of regulations and oversight. In the end, if we look at the internet as not different than the offline environment, then we see we are fighting over the same issues. For instance, openness is valued in the West, and is a political question debated online and off.What the forum is to hold those debates may be the question. Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)RelatedWilliam New may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."A Global Digital Magna Carta? Maybe, But First Identify Needs, Panel Says" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.