Global Governance of the Embedded Internet: The Urgency and the Policy Response

16 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2017 Last revised: 16 Aug 2017

See all articles by Jenifer Winter

Jenifer Winter

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Richard D. Taylor

Pennsylvania State University

Date Written: March 30, 2017


This paper addresses the need to bring the Internet of Things and associated technologies under a global policy regime, built on the newly independent ICANN, acting in an expanded capacity as a recognized non-territorial, multi-stakeholder-based, sovereign entity under agreed and transparent normative standards.

The phrase “Internet governance” is highly contested over its technical, security, and sociopolitical aspects. Until recently, however, it had not been imagined to include networked devices with embedded intelligence, such as smart cars, smart watches, smart refrigerators, and a myriad of other devices. A rapidly emerging issue is how, if at all, the current global Internet governance regime relates to the emerging array of ubiquitous embedded information technologies which collect, store, process, learn from, and exploit information about all aspects of our lives. Does this call for a policy response?

This is a non-trivial issue, as it binds together the Internet of Things, big data analytics, cloud computing, and machine learning/artificial intelligence into a single, integrated system. Each component raises policy issues, but the bigger challenge may be unintended adverse consequences arising from their synchronous operation. Because of the inherently global nature of the underlying network, which seeks to connect “everything to everything else,” it is important to give consideration to whether these developments should have a central point of global policy development, coordination, and oversight.

This paper answers that question in the affirmative and, after reviewing multiple candidates which have been proposed, concludes that the emerging post-U.S. ICANN is most fit for that role. The authors believe it is important to keep the centers of technical and policy expertise together and efficiently available. The authors recognize that such governance is not a “singular system,” and that some issues, such as cybersecurity, may find other homes, perhaps even treaty-based.

The paper further argues that “new” ICANN, largely formally severed from the U.S., and with a revised and expanded role for governments in its management, has a very strong claim for legitimacy and non-territorial sovereignty. On that basis, it may feel more secure in expanding the scope of its mandate – indeed, there will likely be considerable pressure to do so.

Another critical factor is the uncertainty about the normative values that underpin, or in some cases undermine, global Internet governance. These values will continue to be contested, but there is already some broad acquiescence to general principles from the United Nations, which can form the basis for a transparent discussion in a multi-stakeholder venue about which norms and values are most appropriate to guide policy actions. Some of these policy alternatives are presented and discussed.

This topic, and the approach to it, are novel in the respect that very little work has been done in this area. The paper builds on, and considerably extends, that work.

Keywords: Internet Governance, Internet of Things, ICANN, Legitimacy, Sovereignty, Policy Norms, Embedded Infosphere, Multi-Stakeholderism

Suggested Citation

Winter, Jenifer and Taylor, Richard D., Global Governance of the Embedded Internet: The Urgency and the Policy Response (March 30, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Jenifer Winter (Contact Author)

University of Hawaii at Manoa ( email )

2500 Campus Road
Crawford 325
Honolulu, HI 96822
United States
8083919899 (Phone)

Richard D. Taylor

Pennsylvania State University ( email )

Harrisburg, PA
United States

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