Just Net Coalition Proposes Principles for Democratic Internet Governance


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.