Globalizing Internet Governance: Negotiating Cyberspace Agreements in the Post-Snowden Era

27 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2014 Last revised: 17 Sep 2014

See all articles by Sarah West

Sarah West

University of Southern California - Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Date Written: March 31, 2014


This study examines shifts in the discussion of Internet governance in the weeks and months following Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread US surveillance. It looks specifically at the 2014 NetMundial summit in Sao Paulo as an inflection point in the debates, while compare current Internet governance developments within the context of their historical legacy. This paper considers competing analytical frameworks to explore the elevation of Internet governance to the realm of high politics, the refocusing of the debate around issues of sovereignty and tests of the multistakeholder governance model at NetMundial. My aim is to understand what is qualitatively different about the Internet governance debate in the post-Snowden era.

As background, negotiations between governments, industry, and international non-governmental organizations (such as ICANN) historically focused on commercial implications and technical standards for the Internet. Of late, negotiations increasingly take up issues of policy, traditionally deemed to fall within the realm of states. This adds attention to a debate over which fora comprised of which players are most appropriate for such matters. As Internet governance increasingly takes up policy issues it moves from the margins as a highly technical debate into a central, public discussion over the future of the Internet. A new range of players are now involved, creating further potential for shifts in the debate.

I argue that a polylateral diplomatic framework incorporating state, non-state and civil society actors into the geopolitical sphere is the most appropriate lens through which to understand the present environment. Already multistakeholderism dominates discussions of how the Internet should be governed. The end of US controls over the IANA function, the robust global public diplomacy campaign by ICANN, and the rise of Brazil as a powerful strategic national player in support of multistakeholderism all evidence this approach. At the same time, a growing number of players are asserting stringent national controls over the Internet. China, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Turkey, and Venezuela, and others incorporate censorship and deploy Internet shut-offs as part of their national governance regimes. More recently, talk of the creation of a European Internet separated from the global network and moves by Brazil to route its Internet traffic so that it bypasses the United States suggest that these issues of sovereignty are seen as critical to all players, even those who overtly support a multistakeholder model.

The outcome of these contradictory moves is unclear, but the 2014 Sao Paulo conference was a catalyzing moment. Given considerable bureaucratic gridlock, I will examine the constraints and opportunities for negotiating a new social contract for the Internet through diplomacy.

Keywords: Internet governance, multistakeholder, diplomacy, sovereignty, polylateral, ICANN, NETmundial

Suggested Citation

West, Sarah, Globalizing Internet Governance: Negotiating Cyberspace Agreements in the Post-Snowden Era (March 31, 2014). 2014 TPRC Conference Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Sarah West (Contact Author)

University of Southern California - Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism ( email )

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