Monday, December 10, 2012

The Consequences of Avoiding Questions of Internet Governance

Within the culture of the Internet, there seems to be a general inclination to avoid even the mention of governance, let alone actually discuss the matter. As I observed when writing about WikiLeaks having become the new platform for whistle-blowing, such head-in-the-sand tactics only go so far:
Then something ugly happens (as was the case with the death threats directed at Kathy Sierra);  and we get a lot of throat-clearing and a paucity of clear thinking.
In many respects the very thought of the United Nations convening a conference on Internet governance is as disconcerting as all that throat-clearing that took place when the Internet revealed itself as a medium for death threats, rather than some idealistic “republic of letters.” It is hard to imagine that an organization, which cannot engage in anything more than similar throat-clearing over current conditions of Syria, can take on a matter with consequences as worldwide as the role of government in Internet activities.

I would suggest it is time to revisit those words of Henry David Thoreau that Internet evangelists embrace so readily:
"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.
The problem is that those who embrace that motto most enthusiastically are also those least “prepared for it.”

How, then, can those who feel most strongly about the Internet prepare themselves? I would like to set forth the modest proposal that the Internet be allowed to declare itself a sovereign state unto itself, provided that, over the course of some grace period of time (determined, perhaps, by the member countries of the United Nations, if they can come to an agreement on anything), they establish and document a set of principles under which that sovereign state will be constituted and governed. This would require some form of constitutional convention, which could be organized under United Nations agreement or perhaps simply through Internet participation. Given the extent to which many countries whose sovereignty is already recognized are now struggling with questions of governance, this Internet exercise might prove valuable for not only the Internet itself but also a clearer understanding of governance in the physical world.

Like most “modest proposals,” this one is sure to be ignored; but, as memes go, it should probably be given a chance to reproduce in the current population of ideas!

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