What is “Internet Governance Theory?”

As part of my ongoing investigations into the concept of Digital Sovereignty, I relied on the existing literature which brought me to a few WordPress websites. The information provided on those sites proved to be insightful enough to warrant a discussion – a preview – of what I intend to discuss in the third part of the “Digital Sovereignty” series of Blog posts. Here, I will be presenting the literature I had gathered and all relevant information worthy of mention.

The first point of reference comes from a July 2014 post on a Blog called “The IT Countrey Justice.” Apparently, it was the last post to a three-part series which focused on the concept of “Internet Governance,” a concept that is in turn related to Digital Sovereignty. The post itself described Internet Governance as being derived from models found in International Relations, the two prominent models classed as “Formal Theories” and “Informal Theories.” The Formal Theories are aligned with the Realist school of thought, whereas the Informal Theories are represented by the Liberal school of thought. While I do have my disagreements over some of the positions covered therein, there are a few positions which I must acknowledge regardless. The general crux is that the Internet, due to its worldwide reach, restricts any potential forms of political governance to either international institutions or private individuals. No single nation is truly capable of asserting absolute domination over the entire Internet.

For the purposes of Part III of “Digital Sovereignty,” the question that remains is whether the Internet should be governed by International Law, an international body, or a shared set of standards among the world’s telecommunications industries. The exact details on how Internet Governance will be implemented in this current world order, the author noted, has yet to be sketched. Since enforcing any national legal jurisprudence cannot be guaranteed on the Internet, this has led to the idea of restructuring the Internet as a Splinternet to become a possibility. Under those circumstances, nations would be obliged to enforce their laws in the digital realm as they normally would in the physical realm. However, they would be limited to their side of the Internet, which is not too far off from what I had in mind for the national Intranet.

In The Work-Standard, my description of the Splinternet outlined the splitting of the digital realm into different national Intranets separated by a single international Internet. The Splinternet, unlike the existing World Wide Web (WWW), should be governed according to International Law, maintained and regulated by a neutral international organization. It would exist as an intermediate between different national spheres of influence in the digital realm. Outside of the national Intranet, on the international Internet, there needs to be international treaties on matters ranging from cybercrime and malware to eCommerce and Internet tourism. Only then can we expect any nation to enforce their own laws on the international Internet.       

Another source was arriving arrived at similar conclusions in a blog post entitled “Digital trade and global governance of the digital economy.” Compared to other foreign policies, the state of affairs in the digital realm is deeply intertwined with those of international trade. The post mentioned that all kinds of organizations emerged since the early days of the WWW to govern its technical standards such as IP Addresses or website domains. It stipulated that because it is possible Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) to be conducted in the digital realm, the same should be true for applications of Protectionism and Autarky, from the imposition of tariffs to regulations on the movements of goods and services across international borders.            

This brings me to my last source, a post called “Persisting in Respect for the Principle of Cyber Sovereignty, Promoting the Construction of a Community of Common Destiny in Cyberspace.” It is a 2016 post with a basic summary of the PRC’s stances toward the digital realm and the question of national sovereignty. The author stated that while China recognizes the importance of the Internet and all its benefits, it also argues that all the problems affecting the Internet today can be traced back to the very issue of Digital Sovereignty. China also insisted that even if one does not think Digital Sovereignty is impossible in the digital realm, one should still realize that the foreign policies of the US concerning cyberwarfare indicates that the concept is tenable.  

Those are just some of the source materials that I currently have for Part III of Digital Sovereignty. I will be expanding on the information covered here, in addition to other perspectives and forays into the topic. I am expecting to have the post ready before the coming weekends.

Categories: Politics

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