An international meeting with the theme: “Towards an Equitable and Just Internet”, will take place in New Delhi, India, on February 14 and 15, 2014 to develop “a progressive response to issues of global governance of the Internet.”
The meeting is being organized by IT for Change (ITfC), a non-governmental organization based in Bangalore, India, that works for the innovative and effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to promote socio-economic change in the global South.
The meeting will bring together actors engaged in social justice movements and ICT, communication and media rights advocacy to dialogue with some of those already engaged with Internet governance issues, with the objective of charting a progressive response to issues related to global governance of the Internet.
The intended outcomes from the meeting include a “charter for Internet justice and equity” as well as specific proposals for democratizing the global governance of the Internet as contributions to the “Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance” being hosted by the Government of Brazil in April, 2014; as well as the United Nations Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation and the WSIS + 10 process.
According to the organizers, although the Internet is emerging as a central feature of contemporary human life, being used to access and disseminate information, to communicate and build community, to transact business and to practise democracy, the benefits of the Internet, including knowledge and power, wealth and influence, are distributed unevenly.
They note that a technology built on the egalitarian peer-to-peer principle, is ironically emerging as a key axis of inequality, an instrument perpetuating and reinforcing longstanding social, economic, cultural and political injustices.
In their view, Edward Snowden’s dramatic exposé of a deep nexus between the United States Government and a few global corporations to enable global surveillance, confirmed just one aspect of the problem.
They argue that “The truth about the Internet and how its socio-technical architecture is being shaped is considerably more complex and insidious. The rapid colonisation of the Internet by a few monopolizing global corporations, and its governance being subject, in a highly disproportionate manner, to the laws and policy priorities of one country, impacts not just privacy, but a huge range of very important social, economic, cultural and political issues.”
They insist that “questions of democracy, social justice and equity need to become central to how the Internet, and how an Internet-mediated society, are evolving” as the “smokescreen of technical-neutrality has prevented for too long a critical, political examination of the social underpinnings of the Internet, its normative boundaries and legal-institutional frames.”
Besides, they said, self-serving formulations like “Multistakeholderism” and “Internet Freedom”, are employed by the status quo to maintain a facade of legitimacy when “beyond the rhetoric, it is clear that the Internet – in its dominance by the powerful, is neither genuinely multi-stakeholder nor genuinely free.”
The meeting therefore seeks to explore a number of “foundational questions”, including the following:
- How is the Internet redistributing power and resources?
- How does this impact those at the margins, those on the peripheries of an increasingly globalised world?
- How is such redistribution connected to the socio-technical architecture of the Internet?
- What kind of Internet would promote social justice and equity?
- What needs to be done to make it more just, more egalitarian?
- Who governs the Internet, and how can its governance be democratized?
The organizers have identified two urgent priorities to be addressed from the standpoint of global justice, namely a progressive conception and vision of the Internet; as well as a common global ownership of the Internet that protects and promotes its “public-ness”, and its evolution as a “global commons”.
They say although the Internet was envisaged as a decentralized network, with control from the peripheries, this characteristic of the network is rapidly eroding.
According to them, “What is urgently needed is a recasting of this technical principle into a socio-political framework for a truly people-owned and people-controlled Internet, and one that works for all. The global governance of the Internet requires a proper institutionalization and legal framework incorporating the true spirit of participatory democracy. It should inter alia serve to insulate the Internet both from corporatist and from statist dominations.”