Human Rights Rhetoric in Global Internet Governance: New ICANN Bylaw on Human Rights
Harvard Business Law Review (2020) Vol 10
40 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2020 Last revised: 24 Feb 2021
Date Written: January 1, 2020
As part of a significant institutional reform in global governance of the Internet, ICANN – an internationally organised multi-stakeholder body that secures the operation of the Domain Name System (DNS) globally – has recently included a Core Value of ‘respect for internationally recognised human rights’ in its Bylaws. Since the DNS is integral for navigating and browsing the Internet, policies governing its operation have enormous human rights implications at the global level. After more than three years of multi-stakeholder deliberations over the appropriate Framework of Interpretation (FOI) for the new Core Value, ICANN Board has finally approved it in November 2019, taking one crucial step forward towards the implementation of its newly pronounced human rights aspirations. This article critically examines ICANN’s latest human rights rhetoric and argues that the new aspirations in the Bylaws are drafted in a way that they carry little, if any, legal weight. I will further show that the new aspirations in the Bylaws are much weaker than the quasi-constitutional, self-imposed commitments in ICANN’s founding documents – the Articles of Incorporation. ICANN has proved to be reluctant to comply with those self-imposed commitments in the past; and I argue that it is, therefore, unlikely to convert its novel human rights rhetoric into practice. This raises questions about the extent of its commitment to human rights values, and whether the new Core Value amounts to little more than a veneer intended to bolster ICANN’s public image and confidence in light of the ongoing institutional reforms in Internet Governance.
Keywords: International human rights law, Internet Governance, global governance, Internet regulation, transnational regulation, human rights, corporate and social responsibility, self-imposed commitments, business and human rights, domain names, internet law, technology law, digital constitutionalism
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