The newly-formed Coalition for a Just and Equitable Internet (Just Net Coalition) has proposed a set of principles to underpin the emergence of a democratic Internet governance framework and an Internet that advances human rights and social justice globally.
In a submission to the Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance (NETmundial), scheduled to take place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 23 and 24, 2014, Just Net Coalition outlined the principles, which it said, “are based on a recognition that the Internet has become a vitally important social infrastructure that profoundly impacts our societies; and on the observation that opportunities for the many to participate in the very real benefits of the Internet, and to fully realize its enormous potential, are being thwarted by growing control of the Internet by politically, economically and socially dominant actors.”
The Coalition was formed at a civil society meeting held in New Delhi, India, in February 2014. It comprises several dozen organisations and individuals from different regions of the world concerned with internet governance, human rights and social justice, and the relationship between them, including Media Rights Agenda (MRA).
According to the Coalition, “The governance of the Internet must proceed from the position that inter-connectivity cannot serve human rights and social justice unless it leads to and supports distributed power, particularly to the grassroots but also across the various Internet divides — social, economic, political.”
The Coalition is proposing that in order to ensure that the Internet does not lead to greater centralisation of power, appropriate interventions will need to be made at all levels of Internet governance.
It acknowledges that “Building an effective framework to achieve these objectives is the greatest challenge today in terms of global governance of the Internet.”
It is however putting forward the following principles, which it said, should underpin the emergence of an Internet that advances human rights and social justice globally, and the reconfiguration of Internet governance into a truly democratic space.
The principles are as follows:
1. The Internet is a key social medium and, in crucial respects, a global commons: it is a site for global knowledge and information exchange, a space for free expression and association, a means for democratic deliberation and participation, a channel for delivery of essential social and public services, and a scaffold for new models of economic activity. Therefore, all the world’s people, including those not at present connected to the Internet, must be able to collaboratively shape the evolution of the Internet through appropriately transparent, democratic and participatory governance processes.
2. The Internet must be used only for peaceful purposes and this must be recognised by states in a binding and enforceable instrument.
3. The Internet economy, like other areas of the global economy, must be subject to fair and equitable collection and distribution of tax revenues around the world recognising that the concentration of global North based international e-commerce is a threat to the tax revenues of the global South.
4. The Internet must be maintained as a public space. Where a divergence emerges between the utility of the Internet for public interest purposes and the particular interests of Internet service or technology companies, the public interest must take priority, and the service must be subjected to regulation as a public utility.
5. Net neutrality, and similar ‘platform neutrality’ in higher layers of the Internet, must be ensured in order to preserve online diversity and to prevent monopolies in either content or in the provision of essential public services, in mobile as well as fixed network architectures.
6. An open and decentralized Internet requires strict enforcement of open and public standards. Open standards allow fully interoperable implementation by anyone in any type of software, including Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). The trend towards privatisation of digital standards must be stemmed and measures must be introduced to ensure that standards are publicly owned, freely accessible and implementable.
7. The architecture for cloud computing should enhance digital functionality and efficiencies without reducing user control and choices. It should also enable users to have adequate legal protections either through domestic jurisdictions or effective international agreements.
8. The Internet’s basic or essential functionalities and services, such as email, web search facilities, and social networking platforms, must be made available to all people as public goods.
9. People must be able to enjoy all their rights and entitlements as citizens, even if they choose not to have Internet access. Access to and use of the Internet should not become a requirement for access to public services.
10. Community-owned and not-for-profit infrastructure, applications, services and content, must be encouraged and enabled including through access to public funding and by other means.
11. The right to access and contribute to the development of the Internet, including its content, particularly of marginalised and/or minority groups is essential to maintaining cultural and linguistic diversity and must be secured through protective discrimination and affirmative action.
12. Personal and social data must belong respectively to the relevant individual and social group. Policy frameworks for operationalising such effective control and ownership of digital data must be developed.
13. The Internet must be governed recognising that in crucial respects it comprises a global commons. All layers of Internet architecture must therefore be designed to safeguard against concentration of power and centralized control.
14. All people have the right to freedom of expression online. Any restrictions, on grounds of security concerns or otherwise, must be for strictly defined purposes and in accordance with globally accepted principles of necessity, proportionality and judicial oversight.
15. All people must have the right to use the Internet without mass surveillance. Any surveillance, on grounds of security concerns or otherwise, must be for strictly defined purposes and in accordance with globally accepted principles of necessity, proportionality and judicial oversight.
16. At the global level, there is a severe democratic deficit in Internet governance. Appropriate platforms and mechanisms for global governance of the Internet that are democratic and participative, must be established urgently. These must be anchored to the UN system, and include explicit provisions to design and enable innovative methods for ongoing and deep participation of non-governmental actors in policy making processes. Participating non-governmental actors must in turn be subject to appropriate transparency requirements, in particular regarding sources of funding, membership and decision-making processes.
17. The right to make Internet-related public policies must lie only with those who legitimately and directly represent people. While there is a pressing need to deepen democracy through innovative methods of participatory democracy, these cannot include – in the name of multi- stakeholderism – new kinds of formal political power for corporate or partisan interests.
18. Governance systems must be based on the recognition that the Internet has an impact on society that the technical community, with its singular focus on technical issues, lacks the legitimacy to determine.
19. The laws of any one country or one group of countries cannot control or constitute international technical and public policy governance structures. Management of critical resources of the Internet must be internationalised. Current control by the US of the DNS/root zone must thus be replaced by a new transparent, accountable and internationally representative institution responsible for the oversight of critical Internet resource management functions.
20. Every country must have the right to connect to the Internet. No country can have the unilateral ability to disconnect another country or a region from the Internet.
21. The rights of individuals and states must be articulated and protected with regard to the Internet including through the creation of appropriate enforcement mechanisms. Such mechanisms are required at both the domestic and international levels, and should include dispute resolution mechanisms.