Chatham House: Independent thinking on international affairs

Global Commission on Internet Governance

The Global Commission on Internet Governance is a two-year initiative that will articulate and advance a strategic vision for the future of internet governance. 

Chaired by Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt , the commission will include about 25 members drawn from various fields and from around the world, including policy and government, academia and civil society. All commissioners are listed at the commission's website, www.ourinternet.org

The commission will address four key themes, within which are a number of sub-themes: 

  • Enhancing governance legitimacy — including regulatory approaches and standards
  • Preserving innovation — including critical internet resources, infrastructure and competition policy
  • Ensuring rights online — including establishing the principle of technological neutrality for human rights, privacy, cyber-crime and free expression
  • Avoiding systemic risk — including establishing norms regarding state conduct, cybercrime cooperation, and proliferation and disarmament issues

Why is the Commission Important?

The current mechanism of internet governance, colloquially called the 'multi-stakeholder' model, is under threat. This threat to a free, open, and universal internet comes from two principal sources. First, a number of authoritarian states are waging a campaign to exert greater state control over critical internet resources. Second, revelations about the nature and extent of online surveillance have led to a loss of trust. Collectively, these circumstances have created a need to update legacy mechanisms for internet governance; but deadlocks in international dialogue mean the potential exists for the fragmentation of the internet. Accordingly, a significant and timely opportunity exists to feed innovative new ideas into these negotiations through the establishment of the Global Commission on Internet Governance.  

What is Internet Governance and the Multi-stakeholder Model? 

The internet's architecture is constantly changing. The content and computing devices which end users see are only the surface of a massive underlying infrastructure of networks, services, and institutions that keep the internet operational. This architecture comprises private information intermediaries such as network operators, exchange points, search engines, hosting services, e-commerce platforms, and social media providers.

Global coordination is necessary to keep the internet operational. For example, global technical standardization ensures interoperability; cybersecurity governance maintains stability and authentication; and centralized coordination ensures that each internet name and number is globally unique. These, and other, tasks necessary to keep the internet operational, are collectively referred to as 'global internet governance.'

As the internet becomes increasingly enmeshed with vital aspects of everyday life, actors that perform these various internet governance functions are also being called upon to provide expert knowledge on the governance of human behaviour online. This trend complicates an already difficult governance terrain. 

For the majority of its history, the internet has been governed in an organic and piecemeal fashion by a variety of standard-setting and other technical bodies and by private companies performing key roles as network operators and information intermediaries. Multi-stakeholder governance means governance involving more than one of the four categories of participants: firms, states, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society (including technical experts acting in their individual capacities). It typically utilizes relatively non-hierarchical procedural rules. Rather than hard law and regulatory enforcement, governance is accomplished by means of voluntary compliance with technical standards, codes of conduct, and industry best practices.

How is the Commission Supported?

The commission is an initiative between two partners:

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), an independent, non-partisan think tank on international governance, located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: www.cigionline.org

Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, based in London, UK, is a world-leading source of independent analysis, informed debate and influential ideas on how to build a prosperous and secure world for all: www.chathamhouse.org.

The commission will be supported by a CIGI-Chatham House Secretariat, as well as by a broader Steering Committee comprised of the Chair, the Secretariat, and a small number of officials from interested governments. It will also be supported by a Research Advisory Network and by a Business Advisory Network. These groups will support the work of the Secretariat in providing the Chair and the Commission with a full range of research and stakeholder views. 

Further Information

The commission will be conducting broad based consultations, which, over time, will include soliciting feedback on internet governance from members of the general public. For the latest information, please visit: www.ourinternet.org.

Members of the commission currently include the following, with full biographies available at www.ourinternet.org:
  • Carl Bildt, Chair of the Global Commission on Internet Governance
  • Gordon Smith, Deputy Chair of the Global Commission on Internet Governance
  • Dominic Barton
  • Pablo Bello
  • Dae-Whan Chang
  • Moez Chatchouk
  • Michael Chertoff
  • Anriette Esterhuysen
  • Hartmut Glaser
  • Dorothy Gordon
  • Dame Wendy Hall
  • Fen Osler Hampson
  • Melissa Hathaway
  • Patricia Lewis
  • Mathias Müller von Blumencron
  • Beth Simone Noveck
  • Joseph S. Nye
  • Sir David Omand
  • Nii Quaynor
  • Latha Reddy
  • Marietje Schaake
  • Tobby Simon
  • Michael Spence
  • Paul Twomey
  • Pindar Wong
  • Dian Triansyah Djani
Moore Wilson Digital Agency London