European Commission puts itself forward as global "honest broker"


The European Commission has issued a press release in which, in the light of recent US government-led internet surveillance scandals, it puts itself forward as an "honest broker" for future negotiations on internet governance. 

The press release proposes a four-point plan aimed at shoring up confidence in the global internet governance system, which includes such measures as the creation of an online platform called the "Global Internet Policy Observatory" to ensure transparency on internet policies, as well as making a "commitment to creating a set of principles of internet governance to safeguard the open and unfragmented nature of the Internet."

In the wake of Edward Snowden's 2013 revelations of widespread National Security Agency surveillance of the Internet, the Commission's press release suggests that the US government has undermined public trust in the current internet governance system, stating that the revelations:

"have called into question the stewardship of the US when it comes to internet governance. So given the US-centric model of internet governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet."

The multi-stakeholder process, a cause dear to the Commission's heart, gets liberal mention in the press release with the Commission pledging to work on improving the "transparency, accountability and inclusiveness" of the process. European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes has long been a vocal critic of ICANN, notably when she called into question its dismissal of certain Governmental Advisory Committee concerns surrounding the launch of the new gTLD programme, although ICANN went ahead and approved the programme anyway in 2011. 

On a related note and, in what is no doubt a reference to European privacy and data protection concerns regarding ICANN's new WHOIS data verification measures, the Commission promises to conduct "a review of conflicts between national laws or jurisdictions that will suggest possible remedies."

The press release comes at a time when rumours of an ICANN move to Geneva "as an alternative to allowing its functions to be taken over by the International Telecommunications Union" have been reported in sources such as the Swiss newspaper Le Temps. In this regard, the press release quotes Kroes as saying:

"Some are calling for the International Telecommunications Union to take control of key internet functions. I agree that governments have a crucial role to play, but top-down approaches are not the right answer. We must strengthen the multi-stakeholder model to preserve the Internet as a fast engine for innovation."

Comments made by ICANN's current CEO Fadi Chehadi at a conference in October 2013 that the "current ICANN contract that gives the US government a unique role in the root management function is not sustainable" are being seen as evidence of a possible ICANN departure from US soil with Switzerland being a possible destination, as mentioned above.

While the European Commission is a strong supporter of the multi-stakeholder model, it does reserve some criticism for ICANN's practices, especially with regard to the new gTLD programme, and it remains to be seen whether the two bodies can indeed find a way to work together going forward.

David Taylor and Cindy Mikul, Hogan Lovells LLP, Paris 

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