New trends in industry self governance

07 November 2012 - A Workshop on Baku,Azerbaijan


Informal rule setting still plays a significant role in Internet governance. Non-governmental governance can occur at two levels: by shared rules negotiated through bodies like ICANN, and via private ordering by individual firms with significant market power. This panel will explore these two levels drawing on research into ICANN, especially its Affirmation of Commitments, and two recent cases: the Google Books [non-] settlement, and several governments’ demands that service providers such as Research In Motion and Facebook give local law enforcement agencies access to user communications. These all raise significant questions of transparency, accountability and inclusion in comparison to more traditional intergovernmental rule-setting.

Google’s project to digitize, index, and later to sell access to large numbers of out-of-print books is a leading example of an Internet-triggered shift from public to private regulation and the declining authority of copyright law. It triggered a major international controversy encompassing three class action lawsuits, a proposed and subsequently amended settlement by the litigating parties, more than 400 filings by class-members and "friends of the court" (including the French and German governments), two court hearings, various conferences, innumerous blog entries and articles. A New York federal district court ultimately rejected a proposed settlement between Google and representatives of book authors and publishers, stating that the issues would be “more appropriately decided by Congress than through an agreement among private, self-interested parties."

While almost all states allow law enforcement agencies to intercept Internet communications, the growing use of encryption has restricted access to in-transit communications and social networking data. The governments of India and several Middle Eastern nations have all pressed Research In Motion to allow police access to BlackBerry encrypted messages, threatening otherwise to shut down services. RIM has installed local servers in several countries to meet these demands. The Indian government is reportedly now looking at encrypted services provided by Google and Skype. These and other online services, often hosted in the US, receive frequent requests from foreign law enforcement agencies for user data. Such requests have no statutory force, but may be voluntarily granted under US law – raising questions about user privacy, oversight of this access, and state sovereignty.

These cases have much wider implications for other Internet services and users around the world. The proposed workshop will facilitate a multi-stakeholder exploration of these implications. Six panelists, from government, business, civil society and academia, will open the debate by each posing three specific questions on the accountability, viability and efficiency raised by these governance structures. These questions will kick-off roundtable discussion between the panelists, the audience, and remote participants. The objective will be to draw out further lessons in how the public interest can best be protected in informal Internet governance processes.

Organiser(s) Name:
Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK [academia]
Centre for Internet and Society, India [civil society]
Media Change & Innovation Division, IPMZ, University of Zurich, Switzerland [academia]
Nominet, UK [business]