This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
(Speaker's notes, may differ from delivered version)
Thank my Hon. Friend for bringing this debate today.
Success of the internet
Our starting point should be to recognise and celebrate the huge global success of the internet.
The internet has brought new economic opportunities, it has given a voice to individuals and communities around the world and it is fundamental to many of the services on which we depend.
The current model
The current international governance model for the internet is one of the key reasons for its success.
The internet is an open, global and borderless network of networks, primarily driven by its users and by the private sector.
Its most important technical standards are open and developed by consensus, making it open to new devices, new applications and services.
There is no centralised or over-arching global framework of top-down inter-governmental control or oversight.
The internet relies on a broad range of stakeholders and it is important that businesses, civil society, the technical community and academic institutions and governments are able to share knowledge, experience, skills and best practice and contribute to decision-making.
The United Nation’s World Summit on the Information Society in 2005 affirmed that multi-stakeholder model of internet governance.
The multi-stakeholder model – based on collaboration consensus and partnership- building - has ensured that the internet continues to be dynamic, innovative and robust and I believe will continue to do so.
That is not to say, of course, that there are not challenges to be addressed.
The internet has brought some fundamentally new challenges.
Parents, internet services providers, governments and others need to work together to ensure effective tools are in place to protect children online
In other areas, such as consumer protection, intellectual property rights and data protection, legal and regulatory frameworks and business models have had to radically adapt to the new challenges and opportunities brought by the internet.
And there are new challenges and opportunities to do with the internet itself that we need to address, such as the need to promote greater multi-lingualism on the internet, so that more people around the world can access it in their own language.
We also need to support developing countries to expand their capacity and their internet infrastructure. The Department for International Development, for example, supports the Alliance for an Affordable Internet which works in this area.
No one stakeholder acting alone can tackle these issues in isolation. Stakeholders need to collaborate and work together to address these challenges.
That is why the multi-stakeholder governance model is so important.
A new inter-governmental body?
There have been calls from some countries for a fundamental change in the international internet governance model.
Some have called for governments to have direct oversight of the internet and for a new inter-governmental organisation to create Treaty-based rules.
I can understand that might sound superficially like an easy solution to some of the complex challenges that we face.
But in our view it would not work and it would put at risk the benefits that the internet offers, for three main reasons:
First, such formal, institutional and decision-making models would not be able to keep pace with the rapid technological change that is so characteristic of the internet and the rapidly-evolving needs and desires of internet users. They would act as a brake on innovation and stifle the dynamism that has allowed the internet to deliver so many benefits and opportunities for economic growth and social welfare.
Second, the internet is an adaptive technology. It is not a single entity, it is a network of networks with no centralised control. It is questionable from a technical point of view how top-down control of the internet by governments would work.
And finally, the internet is a tool which affects nearly all aspects of life. Any new inter-governmental organisation would at best duplicate the mandates of existing international organisations. The World Trade Organisation, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, Interpol and many other international organisations have already over recent years expanded their capacity to deal with internet-related issues in their areas of expertise.
Keeping the model “fit for purpose”
So we do not support the establishment of a new intergovernmental body. That does not mean to say, however, that we would resist all change.
The international internet governance model needs to be kept fit for purpose and as the internet develops, so we should ensure that the existing processes are able to adapt and keep pace with the opportunities of the future.
There is already work under way in this respect:
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) plays a valuable role in bringing together a broad range of stakeholders to discuss issues of common concern. It has recently taken steps, which we support, to improve its effectiveness.
The UN’s Commission on Science and Technology for Development has established a Working Group to look at how “enhanced cooperation” with governments works and whether changes or adaptations are needed. We look forward to seeing the results of that work next year.
ICANN has taken steps to internationalise its presence and to open up the domain name system and we encourage them to continue in that process.
In 2015 the United Nations will conduct a ten year review of the actions which came from the World Summit on the Information Society. We hope that work will also feed in to the development of the Millennium Development Goals.
We continue to support these international processes.
In addition, we understand that Brazil is proposing further international discussions in April or May next year.
Brazil has played a positive and valuable role in internet governance issues for many years.
The Brazilian Internet Steering Committee has published a set of principles for the Governance and use of the internet. Those principles have been a helpful contribution to the debate which many countries, including the UK, would broadly support.
We look forward to hearing more details about any event in Brazil next year and are ready to engage.
As I have said, we are sceptical about greater control of the internet by governments or by inter-governmental organisations. But we are committed to engaging in discussions about how we can ensure the current model remains fit for purpose.
The test we should apply to any proposed changes to the internet governance model must ultimately be a practical test:
does it allow us to maintain an internet which is open, robust and technically secure?
does it help us find sustainable and consensus-based solutions to the challenges we face?
and does it allow the internet to continue to develop and innovate and continue to offer social and economic benefits to more people around the world?
The internet has been a huge success and continues to transform all aspects of our lives.
We will work to maintain and strengthen the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance that has sustained that success and ensure that it is fit for purpose in the future.