17th May 2022

EU internet governance plan gains US support

With only a day left for the UN world summit on information to kick off in Tunis, a European Union compromise proposal on how to govern the internet is gaining international support, Brussels says.

Roughly 15,000 delegates and more than 50 heads of state are due to attend the three-day long summit in the Tunisian capital on Wednesday (16 November), with the ambition of ending five years of negotiations on the high stakes topic.

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"Our proposal has been applauded by countries like the US and Saudi-Arabia," a European Commission spokesperson said on Tuesday, hinting that a final agreement might be in sight.

The EU proposal aims at internationalising the governance of the internet, finding a formula under which governments share control over issues like spam, cyber crime and world wide access, without setting up new bureaucratic institutions.

Up until now the world wide web has been governed by the California-based organisation Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, (Icann), which has the power to suspend whole countries' internet services at will.

Icann itself is overseen by the US' commerce department.

Members of the US House of Representatives said in October that the US should resist international pressure to give up authority over key internet functions.

US officials explained that because of the internet’s importance to the world economy, the governance system had to "remain stable and secure," insisting that the US maintain its historic role.

The EU has argued that, for the same reasons, the internet should be more democratic, calling for "the establishment of an arbitration and dispute resolution mechanism based on international law in case of disputes."

Countries such as Iran, China and Cuba would like to have individual state control over the internet, however, with Brazil threatening to create its own regional web if US dominance is not broken.

The contract between Icann and the US commerce department runs out at the end of next year, prompting a global rush for tenders to take over Icann's job.

No Internet freedom in Tunisia

Ironically, the summit is in danger of being overshadowed by the host regime's flagrant disrespect of the very same liberties the summit intends to safeguard - but in real life instead of cyberspace.

On Monday (14 November) members of Human Rights Watch and other NGOs reported that Tunisian policemen prevented them from participating in a preparatory meeting for an alternative "fringe summit."

On top of this, a reporter from French newspaper Liberation, investigating human rights abuses in Tunis, was stabbed and beaten in a central neighbourhood of the capital last Friday.

And the Belgian television station RTBF said on Monday that one of its cameraman had been harassed and forced out of his car with his camera and video cassette confiscated.

The commission said on Tuesday that the EU has expressed concerns about the events to its Tunisian hosts.

Tunisia has been governed by president Zine Abidine Ben Ali since 1987, with human rights organisations repeatedly criticising the regime for torture and curbs on free speech, including jail sentences for people involved in internet-based publications.

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