Can the Internet Be Governed?

Amid concerns about the impact of Big Tech, stakeholders are calling for new rules to govern the internet.


The Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace and its Challenges

In 1996, John Perry Barlow penned the "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace", advocating for a free and unregulated internet. However, critics argue that Barlow's vision of an open internet has not withstood the test of time, as concerns about privacy, misinformation, and mental health have loomed large.

Although governments initially took a hands-off approach to internet regulation, the past decade has seen a surge in regulatory efforts. Anu Bradford, in her book "Digital Empires", describes these interventions as a "cascade of regulation" that will shape the future of the digital society.

Other books, like Tom Wheeler's "Techlash: Who Makes the Rules in the Digital Gilded Age?" and Chris Dixon's "Read Write Own", raise similar concerns about the concentration of power in the hands of a few tech giants and advocate for more democratic control over the internet.

Challenges of Internet Governance

Questions of control have always surrounded the internet. Although it was initially envisioned as a decentralized network, the reality is that various centralized entities, like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), play a crucial role in internet governance.

Governments around the world have grown impatient with the idea of an autonomous internet, leading to a wave of regulatory interventions. The regulatory landscape is characterized by overlapping and often contradictory laws, creating an environment with significant challenges.

Surveillance and privacy concerns have also become key issues in internet governance. Governments are using legislation to gain greater access to private communications, while also attempting to protect citizens' data from corporate exploitation.

Exploring Different Models of Internet Governance

As the debate about internet governance continues, different models are being proposed. Ben Tarnoff's "Internet for the People," R. Trebor Scholz's "Own This!", and Mustafa Suleyman's "The Coming Wave" offer various perspectives on how to reimagine the internet.

India has emerged as a key player in digital governance, with its digital stack revolutionizing the way citizens interact with the internet. The stack provides a model where private enterprise operates within a framework established by the state. Other countries in the Global South are considering adopting elements of India's approach.

However, challenges remain in finding the right balance between regulation and innovation. Critics argue that excessive regulation stifles innovation and disproportionately affects smaller companies. The complexity and diversity of global internet regulations further complicate the search for effective governance models.