THE HAGUE – Proposals regarding Internet governance are bound to generate serious friction. The online world, after all, has provided enormous opportunities to billions of denizens, largely because it has never been governed.
And yet, as the Internet grows in importance, so do the risks inherent in the lack of regulation. There is a growing danger that the open platform we all cherish will increasingly be colonized by corporate greed, criminal activity, and conflict between states – with ordinary citizens the ultimate victims. It is essential that safeguards be put in place, and that countries and companies alike are bound by principles that encourage them to act in the common interest.
The utopian view that governments and other institutions should stay out of the way ignores the role that countries are already playing on the Internet, often secretly. Nor does it account for the fact that giant companies are exploiting this largely unregulated environment to set themselves up as the new sovereigns.
When a country censors online content on a massive scale or uses digital backdoors to monitor its citizens, the entire Internet feels the impact. Similarly, when companies with billions of users scattered around the world suffer data breaches or choose to pursue profits at the expense of universal human rights, it is not currently clear who can hold them to account.