The Emerging Field of Internet Governance
Yale Information Society Project Working Paper Series
21 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2010 Last revised: 29 Jul 2014
Date Written: September 17, 2010
While much Internet research focuses on Internet content and usage, another important set of questions exists at a level of technological design and governance orthogonal to content and therefore generally outside of public view. Internet governance scholars, rather than studying Internet usage at the content level, examine what is at stake in the design, administration, and manipulation of the Internet's actual protocological and material architecture. This architecture is not external to politics and culture but, rather, deeply embeds the values and policy decisions that ultimately structure how we access information, how innovation will proceed, and how we exercise individual freedom online.
"Governance" in the Internet governance context requires qualification because relevant actors are not only governments. Governance is usually understood as the efforts of nation states and traditional political structures to govern. Sovereign governments do perform certain Internet governance functions such as regulating computer fraud and abuse, performing antitrust oversight, and responding to Internet security threats. Unfortunately, some governments also use content filtering and blocking techniques for surveillance and censorship of citizens. Many other areas of Internet governance, such as Internet protocol design and coordination of critical Internet resources, have historically not been the exclusive purview of governments but of new transnational institutional forms and of private ordering. Without this qualification, the Internet governance nomenclature might incorrectly convey that this type of scholarship somehow advocates for greater government control of the Internet (Johnson, Crawford, and Palfrey 2004).
The study of Internet governance is concerned with a number of overarching questions. How are we to understand the role of private Internet ordering and corporate social responsibility in determining communicative contexts of political and cultural expression? How can conflicting values be balanced: for example, the desire for interoperability versus the need to limit some exchanges based on authentication and trust? How should critical Internet resources be allocated, and by whom, to maximize technical efficiency but also achieve social goals? How do repressive governments “govern” the Internet through filtering, blocking, and other restraints on freedom of expression? What is the appropriate relationship between sovereign nation-state governance and nonterritorial modes of Internet governance? What are the connections between Internet protocol design, innovation, and individual civil liberties? To what extent are the problems of Internet governance creating new global governance institutions and what are the implications? Internet governance research brings these important public interest issues to light and produces the theoretical and applied research that influences some of the most critical policy debates of our time.
This paper presents a taxonomy for understanding current themes and controversies in Internet governance, presents a canon of interdisciplinary Internet governance scholarship, and identifies some emerging issues that present a moment of opportunity for new research. The following are the current themes this paper describes: critical Internet resources; Internet protocols; Internet governance-related intellectual property rights; Internet security and infrastructure management; and communication rights. Areas in need of additional research involves the increasing privatization of Internet governance, particularly at the level of infrastructure management. Recommended areas for additional study include: 1) private sector backbone peering agreements at Internet exchange points (IXPs); 2) network management via deep packet inspection; and 3) the increasing use of trade secrecy laws in information intermediation.
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