The Accountable Net: Peer Production of Internet Governance

34 Pages Posted: 3 May 2004

See all articles by David R. Johnson

David R. Johnson


Susan P. Crawford

Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society

John G. Palfrey

Harvard Law School


Three problems of online life - spam, informational privacy, and network security - lend themselves to the peer production of governance. Traditional sovereigns have tried and, to date, failed to address these three problems through the ordinary means of governance. The sovereign has a role to play in the solution to each of the three, but not as a monopoly and not necessarily in the first instance. A new form of order online, brought on by private action, is emerging in response to these problems. If properly understood and encouraged, this emerging order could lead to an accountable internet without an offsetting loss of those aspects of online life that we have found most attractive.

There has been a great deal of loose talk about the need for "internet governance," particularly in the context most recently of the World Summit on the Information Society, but much less careful analysis of the question whether the online world really does pose special problems, or present special opportunities, for collective action. There has been a general discussion as to whether the internet, as a general rule, lends itself to governance by traditional sovereigns or if something in the net's architecture resists such forms of control. We do not seek to re-open this debate, acknowledging at the outset the important role that traditional sovereigns have to play in most areas of decision-making and enforcement on the internet. Rather, we seek to look more closely at a series of particularly thorny issues that have proven especially challenging for policy makers seeking to impose governance by states. We seek the special problems - and corresponding opportunities - of online activity and assess the relative merits of various options for how to resolve them.

Keywords: Internet governance, spam, privacy, and network security, democracy, peer production

JEL Classification: L14, L15, L86

Suggested Citation

Johnson, David Reynold and Crawford, Susan P. and Palfrey, John G., The Accountable Net: Peer Production of Internet Governance. Available at SSRN: or

Susan P. Crawford

Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

John G. Palfrey

Harvard Law School ( email )

1545 Massachusetts Avenue
Areeda Hall 511
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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