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Who controls the internet? CIRA member meet-up event recap

What is your passion? There's a forum for you in the internet governance space.
By Erin Hutchison
Content Marketing and Social Media Specialist

What is your passion? There’s a forum for you in the internet governance space.

How much would you say you know about internet governance? At least a little bit, if you’re familiar with what CIRA does. When people ask where I work, many are shocked to learn that there is an organization that operates the .CA domain registry. You can be a heavy internet user but as long as everything works as it should, you may take its governance for granted. The reality is that many Canadians have a poor understanding of who the internet governance players are—domain registries, registrars, ICANN, hosting companies, ISPs, the federal government, just to name a few—and what their capabilities and responsibilities are.

CIRA member meet-up explores internet governance 

Findings published in the report Canadians deserve a better internet indicated that 75% of Canadian internet users say they only know a little or hardly anything about the topic of global control and regulation of the internet. Those who were in the room at our recent member meet-up in Toronto or tuning in by webcast have taken the first steps in learning about the world of internet governance. As panellist Sarah Ingle put it, the best way of learning is by doing.

Ingle, who was introduced to internet governance through the NextGen ICANN program at ICANN61 in Puerto Rico, provided her perspective on the event panel as a relative newcomer to the space. Sam Burton of The Mozilla Foundation and CIRA president and CEO Byron Holland also shared their expertise and provide their answers to audience-submitted questions. 

What issues are you passionate about?

One of the top takeaways of the event was the conclusion that all roads lead to internet governance in the end. Our panellists suggest you follow your passion if you’re interested in getting involved in internet governance: 

We followed up with the panellists to answer a few of the questions that we didn’t get time to address during the event.

How can we engage marginalized groups on issues of internet governance?

Sarah Ingle, founder and co-leader of Youth Internet Governance Forum Canada

“Engaging marginalized groups on issues of internet governance first requires understanding what barriers exist to equitable participation and directly asking what resources, supports, or systemic changes need to be implemented in order to make it an equally safe, welcoming, and accessible space. While the multistakeholder model generally does a good job of opening up participation to everyone equally in terms of voting and speaking rights (few models allow states and end users to participate on equal terms), many barriers remain in terms of getting people to the table and to stay actively involved.

“In my own experience, I have been lucky to participate in programs like ICANN’s NextGen which provide funding to attend meetings and some training on the organization. Initiatives like this do open up participation to those who are otherwise unable to afford it. However, I think that across internet governance we need to do a better job of mentoring newcomers and building inclusive communities to make the terms of participation more equitable for those who are marginalized by virtue of how they identify, whether their participation is paid work or voluntary, and other factors.” 

How can governance help temper the bad aspects of the internet, such as hate mongering and fake news?

Sam Burton, Director, Insights at the Mozilla Foundation:

“This is perhaps the most critical question for our digital world, today. Misinformation and hate speech online are having serious negative impacts on societies worldwide, and we need to figure out how to address them. Yet in the rush to ‘solve’ these problems, some governance ‘solutions’ are doing more harm than good. Take the EU’s recently introduced rule that online hosts must take down ‘terrorist content’ within 60 minutes of being notified about it. While at first glance this might seem to make sense, Mozilla argues that it will be harmful to internet health because it incentivies platforms to aggressively supress user speech with limited due process and safeguards for user rights. What’s more, there’s little evidence that this approach is likely to achieve its goals of reducing the actual terrorism threat or the phenomenon of radicalisation in Europe. Mozilla has recommended ammendments to the EU’s proposal to help avoid these potential negative outcomes. The design of governance systems must include and listen to a diversity of voices, in order to ensure that efforts to solve problems don’t create further harm.” 

What is the biggest challenge with internet governance?

Byron Holland, president and CEO of CIRA:

“Cross jurisdictional governance. The cross jurisdictional nature of the internet is the reason we are able to connect socially and do business with nearly anyone on the planet. However, it also introduces challenges of governance. The world is not a homogenous place and governments do not treat the internet in a uniform fashion. Increasingly, issues of internet governance are leading to tension between the transnational internet and national jurisdictions – be it data protection, restrictions on content and speech, or intellectual property. Additionally, the governance bodies responsible for ensuring the interoperability of internet infrastructure and public technical identifiers (including domain names and IP addresses) contend with the legal and regulatory structures of every jurisdiction on the planet.

“For example, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is currently grappling with how to best comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regime (GDPR) while still providing a framework for disclosing certain domain name registration data to legitimate law enforcement agencies. But what constitutes a legitimate law enforcement agency? There are over 100 law enforcement agencies in Canada alone – from the RCMP to Alberta Parks conservation officers and everything in between. How do you determine legitimacy in every national jurisdiction and sub-national jurisdiction in the world?” 

It is important to understand the internet governance landscape and how it affects all Canadians, including yourself. This event was a good stepping stone for CIRA members to learn more about the ever-evolving challenges that this powerful tool presents.

And the answer to the question Who controls the internet? is both a complex and simple answer at the same time: the internet is not run by one single person, company, organization or government, but rather a multi-stakeholder network of groups from around the world. If you’d like to get more involved, consider the panel’s suggestion: find a topic or issue that you’re passionate about, and find an organization that is working towards a solution.

About the author
Erin Hutchison

Erin brings to CIRA a background of marketing experience in higher education and the not-for-profit sector. In 2015, she participated in ISOC’s Youth@IGF Programme and traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico to attend the IGF. She has a Bachelor of International Business from Carleton University.