Increasing the role of governments in cyberspace could spell disaster for the free nature of the Internet, top American officials and analysts said on Wednesday.
Rather than seeking expanded government control, countries, companies, and other organizations should seek to strengthen a “multi-stakeholder” approach that allows input from everyone, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Larry Strickling told an audience at the Brookings Institution.
“Each challenge to the multi-stakeholder model has implications for Internet governance throughout the world,” he said. “When parties ask us to overturn the outcomes of these processes, no matter how well-intentioned the request, they are providing ammunition to other countries who would like to see governments take control of the Internet.”
Strickling defended the process that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers used to develop plans for new, expanded domain names.
While that plan has been criticized, Strickling said it was inappropriate for detractors to ask the U.S. government to step in.
He said efforts to more strictly control cyberspace will only lead to stagnation.
“An Internet constrained by an international treaty will stifle the innovators and entrepreneurs who are responsible for its awesome growth,” Strickling said.
As opposed to individual government policies or strict international agreements, broad principles can help pressure other countries to preserve the Internet as a global platform, said Karen Kornbluh, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
In December, OECD formally recommended that “any policymaking associated with [the Internet] must promote openness and be grounded in respect for human rights and the rule of law.”
OECD’s principles are a landmark move on behalf of governments, said Google’s Robert Boorstin. When was the last time governments got together and decided they weren’t the right ones to take the lead on something?” he asked. “This is a big deal.”
Companies and other nongovernmental organizations are best suited to achieve a free Internet with the least chance of unintended consequences, said Mark Cooper, research director at the Consumer Federation of America.
“Governments can really break the Internet, companies not so much,” he said at Wednesday’s event. “We have to know who the bad guys really are.”