GCCS 2015: Battlefield for the Internet’s Multi-Stakeholder Coup (Part I)

Published on Norse Corp on Jan 21st, 2015

As you may already be aware, the next iteration of the Global Conference on CyberSpace will be held on April 16th and 17th in The Hague, the Netherlands this year. It is the worlds’ premier political conference on Cyberspace and this is its’ fourth edition.

Earlier conferences took place in London (2011), Budapest (2012) and Seoul (2013). During these events the worlds’ political elite gathered to discuss pressing matters concerning cyberspace; a subject that inches ever higher on political agendas worldwide.

No countries are excluded by default, making it a truly global event aimed at creating dialogue between nations that are both like minded as well as political opposites.

One of the key goals is the creation of a globally accepted baseline of online behaviors. It’s a tough issue to crack because each nation has different notions on what constitutes undesired behavior online, and even more hotly debated is what each behavior warrants as a response.

Because there are so many underlying political motivations, nothing has thus far been universally agreed upon. Rumor has it that not even the fight against the utterly reprehensible crime of child pornography turned out to be common ground.

The reason for this was more political than emotional; some nations considered a global ban on these practices to set a precedent that would later back them into a corner. This illustrates a considerable amount of distrust, and underscores exactly how difficult it will be to reach any truly substantial agreement.

The difference in culture, political environment and -more to the point- the views on human rights in countries such as China, Russia and Iran when compared to western nations explains quite well why they would be opposed to any treaty that directly or indirectly influences (or condemns) practices that are commonplace there.

For instance, the right to uncensored internet access for citizens, that we take for granted in the Netherlands, is virtually unthinkable in China.

And that is hardly the only example. China and Russia both have a considerable history of co-opting or coercing ‘uncontrolled’ organizations such as organized crime to execute politically motivated attacks.

Totalitarian regimes generally have much greater control over their populace than democratic societies, and this also extends to criminal elements inside its borders. To co-opt or coerce them into performing tasks that a government cannot be seen doing has the benefit of plausible deniability.

After all, an entire nation cannot be held accountable for its’ rogue elements, can it?

But that is far from the only hot topic on the table. Perhaps the most critical issue discussed there is the ongoing struggle for high-level control of the Internet. From a technical standpoint, part of that control currently lies with ICANN, the nonprofit (civilian) organization responsible for the management of Assigned Names and Numbers (or rather: DNS and global Top Level Domains such as .org, .com and .gov).

ICANN also steers IANA, which is responsible for assigning numbers (IP addresses) to names (DNS). Both of these organizations are American, though not formally controlled by the US government. So far, and with a few notable exceptions, they have been doing their work seemingly without undue governmental influence.

But, no doubt due to political pressure on the subject, the US government has relinquished stewardship of ICANN. As of this year, another steward will take the wheel.

And Governmental Influence is exactly the key issue. More on that in the next installment…