Documents considered by the Committee on 26 January 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

7   Internet Governance



COM(09) 277

Commission Communication: Internet governance: the next steps

Legal base
DepartmentBusiness, Innovation and Skills
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 9 December 2010
Previous Committee ReportSee HC 428-iii (2010-11), chapter 2 (13 October 2010) and HC 5-xii (2009-10), chapter 1 (3 March 2010) and HC 19-xxv (2008-09), chapter 1 (21 July 2009)
To be discussed in CouncilTo be determined
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


7.1  On its website, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) explains that "to reach another person on the Internet you have to type an address into your computer — a name or a number. That address has to be unique so computers know where to find each other. ICANN coordinates these unique identifiers across the world. Without that coordination we wouldn't have one global Internet."

7.2  ICANN was formed in 1998 by the US Administration. It is a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation with participants from all over the world. It coordinates and oversees the day-to-day management of the domain name system (the DNS) of unique identifiers for communicating on the Internet. It says it is:

"dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. It promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet's unique identifiers. ICANN doesn't control content on the Internet. It cannot stop spam and it doesn't deal with access to the Internet. But through its coordination role of the Internet's naming system, it does have an important impact on the expansion and evolution of the Internet."[29]

The Commission Communication

7.3  The Communication provides an analysis of progress on Internet governance in the last ten years, the public policy issues involved — from finding ways to ensure that citizens can benefit fully from the Internet's potential as well as dealing with inappropriate content, consumer protection and jurisdiction in an increasingly global world — and the role of governments in the process, where "users will inevitably turn to their governments if there is any major national disruption to their Internet service, and not to the various Internet governance bodies."

7.4  It identifies three basic factors in the success of the Internet's rapid development:

  • An open and interoperable architecture, based on the origins of the Internet in research and academia;
  • Private sector leadership, which facilitated the move of the Internet from academia to society at large and which "continues to deliver important policy objectives and needs to be maintained and supported";
  • The multi-stakeholder model, which has led to "processes to initiate and develop consensus in Internet governance policies."

7.5  The Internet's growing importance for society as a whole "increasingly requires governments to be more actively involved in the key decision-making that underlies the Internet's development". But "private sector initiative must be maintained … Private sector leadership and effective public policies are not mutually exclusive".

7.6  The Commission then reviews its involvement since 1998 in Internet governance, including the development of ICANN, and seeks to identify a number of public policy principles and proposes an approach for moving forward international discussions on these matters, with calls for more transparency and multilateral accountability in the governance of the Internet. The technical aspects are summarised and analysed in the previous Committee's Report of 21 July 2009.[30]

7.7  The Communication anticipated the expiry in September 2009 of an agreement known as the Joint Project Agreement (JPA) between ICANN and the US Department of Commerce, which had provided the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with oversight of ICANN's affairs. The expiry of the JPA did not affect the US Government's oversight of changes to the root zone file[31] managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority — IANA (which is part of ICANN).

7.8  In his accompanying 9 July 2009 Explanatory Memorandum, the then Minister (Lord Carter of Barnes) endorsed the Commission's attribution of the success of the Internet over the last 20 years to "private sector leadership and unhindered innovation at the edge, rather than through any central command structure " He noted the consistency of this private sector-led, bottom up model for Internet governance with Paragraph 48 of the Declaration of Principles by the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, 2003-2005) which states that the "international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organisations."[32]

7.9  In addition to ICANN, the then Minister also noted the Communication's reference to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which was created by WSIS and announced by the UN Secretary General in 2005 as an annual multi-stakeholder forum for addressing Internet issues which, given the global nature of the Internet, it is not possible for any individual country or single group of stakeholders to address.

7.10  He described the "key issue at the heart of the Communication" as "the future role of governments in this process of ensuring the Internet remains secure, stable and interoperable as it undergoes some fundamental changes at a time when the final phase of the US Government's process of privatising ICANN with the ending of the JPA."

7.11  While reaffirming that governments do not need to be involved in the day-to-day management of the Internet, the Communication argued that private sector bodies like ICANN needed to be made accountable to the international community; noted that there was no international consensus for creating a new inter-governmental organisation that would undertake oversight and external accountability; and, as part of an evolutionary approach to ICANN, recommended:

  • a mechanism for "multilateral accountability" in place of the current US oversight of the root zone;
  • the securing of public policies based on "multilateral intergovernmental cooperation";
  • a leadership role for the EU in this "evolutionary process."

7.12  The then Minister outlined UK policy relating to Internet governance, the means for governments to address Internet-related public policy issues, including stability, security, competition, diversity and multilingualism as being "to support the private sector-led, bottom-up multi-stakeholder model as uniquely providing the means to act quickly and globally to secure public policy goals", which he said "reflects the European consensus that any proposed recourse to wholly inter-governmental oversight would be contrary to the WSIS outcomes." He regarded the Commission's proposal for a new mechanism for external intergovernmental oversight as "likely play into the hands of some members of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) who are seeking to extend its inter-governmental mandate to include Internet public policy issues." Instead, the then Minister said, it was preferable to build upon the ten year experience of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), and further strengthen its membership, working methods and ways of influencing ICANN's policy processes. He saw the resumption of the active participation of China, the country with the largest number of Internet users, in the work of the GAC at its most recent meeting in June 2009 in Sydney and the presence of Russia as invited guest at that and two previous GAC meetings, as "very positive signs of the increased acceptance of the GAC as the governmental forum representing over 90% of the world's Internet users, for discussing public policy issues related to Internet Governance", and said that the UK would "continue to work with ICANN in extending the reach of the GAC to those governments not yet engaged in the process." He regarded as important for the Council to agree a common European position on a successor arrangement to the US Joint Project Agreement "for ensuring that ICANN fulfils its mandate as the unique multi-stakeholder, private sector-led organisation for coordinating the technical functions related to the management of the Internet's domain name system, with the full support of all stakeholders including governments, and without risk of capture by any specific interests." This would continue to be a matter for discussion between the Commission and the High Level Internet Governance Group (HLIG) of senior policy experts from European administrations (including the UK), at its next scheduled meeting in September 2009. The UK would work with the Presidency and other Member States to secure that any Council conclusions on the Communication reflect this position.

The previous Committee's assessment

7.13   The previous Committee felt that the then Minister had set out clearly — and in its view persuasively — his preferred approach; and that, at this stage, which approach would prevail was still in the balance. It therefore retained the Communication under scrutiny, and asked the then Minister to write after the next HLIG meeting with his assessment of how matters then stood, and of the chance of the Council agreeing to the sort of common European position that he advocated.[33]

The then Minister's letter of 28 January 2010

7.14  In his letter, the then Minister for Digital Britain (Stephen Timms) provided an update on progress in developing a common European position on the successor arrangement to the US Department of Commerce's Joint Project Agreement (JPA) with ICANN and "on other associated developments relating to this policy area." The Minister noted that the Government had always supported what he described as the US administration's key requirements for a fully privatised ICANN:

  • "ICANN would be sufficiently safeguarded against capture;
  • "ICANN would be sufficiently accountable to its multi-stakeholder community and would preserve the principles of bottom-up development of policies by those parties affected, and would maintain the structures, practices and bylaws of the ICANN model that had been developed by the community — including their regular review;
  • "ICANN would be internationalised to allow it to meet the needs of the global Internet community of the future;
  • "ICANN would be financially and operationally secure.
  • "ICANN would maintain its focus on organisational and operational excellence in performing its technical mission of ensuring safe and stable operations relating to the unique identifiers of the Internet, and of the IANA functions."

7.15  He then explained that the successor agreement to the JPA, known as the "Affirmation of Commitments" (AoC), was duly launched by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA — part of the US Department of Commerce) and ICANN on 1 October 2009, and continued as follows:

"The AoC effectively draws a line under the period of experiment and maturity of the previous 10 years during which ICANN had generally fulfilled its technical mission of ensuring that the system of unique identifiers on which all Internet communication relies was robust and properly managed.

"Significantly, unlike in its previous agreements with ICANN, the US Government has also made explicit in the AoC the importance of ICANN acting in the public interest. ICANN will be required accordingly to assess how its decisions are 'embarked, supported and accepted by the public'.

"Accordingly, the AoC requires ICANN to undertake annual reporting, reviews, analyses, fact-based policy development and fully responsive consultation.

"Moreover the AoC signifies a major shift in ICANN's relations with governments. It has replaced an essentially bilateral relationship of accountability with the US government with an enhanced role for the Governmental Advisory Committee (the GAC) in reviewing ICANN's performance. This therefore would potentially involve all governments. There are currently 94 country members including China which rejoined the GAC in June 2009 after several years' absence and Russia which will attend its first meeting in Nairobi in March. The European Commission is also represented on the GAC.

"The AoC identifies four issues for which separate review teams will be established. The Chair of the GAC (currently the Latvian representative Ambassador Janis Karklins) will be involved both in selecting representatives from stakeholder communities and independent experts to take part in the reviews and as an active participant. The four reviews will cover:

"1. Ensuring accountability, transparency and the interest of global Internet users;

"2. Preserving security, stability and resiliency;

"3. Promoting competition, consumer trust and consumer choice;

"4. Securing Law enforcement access to accurate and complete registrant data (known as 'WHOIS')."[34]

7.16  The then Minister then noted that, following consultation with Member States, the European Presidency had issued a statement:

"welcoming the reaffirmation by the U.S. Administration of its confidence in the private sector-led, bottom-up multi-stakeholder model for the technical coordination and day-to-day management of the DNS, ICANN's global public interest mission and the increased role for all governments and the GAC in enabling public policy issues to be addressed within ICANN even more effectively."

7.17  He then explained that:

"While the AoC agreement clearly demonstrated the intention of the US administration to provide greater international oversight of ICANN primarily through the GAC, neither the US administration nor ICANN had detailed proposals at the time of the AoC's launch as to how to achieve this, other than to require that the first review on transparency and accountability should be completed by December this year (the other three have either later or contingent timelines). The High Level Internet Governance Group (HLIG) of EU policymakers therefore proposed to develop a European position on implementation generally and how the four ICANN reviews should be conducted."

7.18  Finally, the then Minister briefly outlined other issues that were taking place relating to Internet governance as follows:

  • the then Government's position on whether the mandate for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was that "this important multi-stakeholder forum should be renewed for a further 5 year period" and would be lobbying within the UN to achieve this;
  • regarding the Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Mexico in October, he would be examining the future role of the ITU and whether it should undertake a greater role in the Internet space, including activities such as Internet naming and addressing which were currently the sole purview of ICANN. The UK, the European Union and the US remained fundamentally opposed to an inter-governmental agency such as the ITU, as opposed to the multi-stakeholder ICANN, taking on such a role. However, its ability to convince others — including China and a number of developing countries in the Group of 77 — would depend to a certain extent on the progress made in implementing the AOC.[35]

The previous Committee's further assessment

7.19  The previous Committee judged that the outcome thus far appeared to be satisfactory. But, as the Minister had made clear, the battle was far from over; moreover, recent developments in China and closer to home concerning access to the Internet and internet security suggested that the battle lines were becoming more, rather than less, defined. That being so — unless each one was the subject of a new and preliminary Commission Communication — it asked for a further update from the Minister ahead of the two meetings to which he referred above.

7.20  In the meantime, the document was retained under scrutiny.

The Minister's letter of 12 August 2010

7.21  In his letter of 12 August 2010, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries (Ed Vaizey) said that he was now able to provide some further information and to explain the Government's proposed approach at these two key meetings, as follows:

"With respect to the forthcoming ITU Plenipotentiary in Mexico (Guadalajara) in October it is now clear that Internet Governance, both in terms of critical Internet resources and public policy issues (such as cybersecurity) will be on the agenda. The ITU (and several of its members including China and Russia) have made no secret of their wish to become responsible (in the medium to long term) for some of the key architecture process on the Internet; such as the Domain Name System (DNS), currently the responsibility of ICANN; something which, as you know, we are opposed to. There may also be proposals tabled to widen the remit of the ITU so it has specific responsibility for cybersecurity; this again being a move we (and no doubt many others including the EU and the US) will oppose.

"The UK has been active within the European Union and in the CEPT (the wider European region of 48 countries) to secure common proposals that will limit the activities of the ITU in both of these areas. We are also discussing a common approach with the US and hope to secure support of the Commonwealth at their preparatory meeting in September.

"Our objective in the UN in December remains for the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to be renewed with all its fundamental characteristics unchanged, i.e. its continuation as a non-decision making forum for dialogue, showcasing best practice and information exchange with a bottom up multi-stakeholder process for setting the IGF programme which will be managed by a light-weight, independently staffed Secretariat funded by private and public sector stakeholder donations.

"This position was presented by the Belgian Presidency with the support of the UK at a meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York on 16 and 19 July, a key preparatory stage in the preparation for the UNGA decision. China and the "Group of 77", a grouping of 130 developing countries in the UN) stated that they will agree to renewal of the IGF in the UNGA only if it is reformed and brought directly under the control of the UN system. While we and other EU Member States have accepted that there is scope for improving the IGF, we oppose such a transfer of accountability and the imposition of UN oversight and budgetary control because we believe it would undermine the fundamental bottom up concept of the IGF as agreed at the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in 2005. It would also open the door to inter-governmental oversight, perhaps by the ITU in line with their ambitions for the Plenipotentiary Conference.

"ECOSOC had been asked to adopt a resolution drafted by the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD, another UN entity) mandating the CSTD to convene a working group to consider how the structure and preparatory processes of the IGF could be improved, in particular with regard to increasing the level of engagement of stakeholders from developing countries and disseminating the results of its dialogue more effectively. My officials will participate in the CSTD working group to ensure it reaches agreement on changes to the IGF which we can support, such as a more streamlined event structure with more clearly articulated objectives and results, better linkage between the workshops and main thematic sessions and more effective remote participation. Our aim, shared by many other stakeholders, is to achieve an improved IGF event structure that is easier to navigate for stakeholders, with clearly identified aims, a greater focus on opportunities and challenges, and increased visibility of results derived from such multi-stakeholder discussions, be they at the global, regional and national levels where we have seen a rapid expansion in the last 12 months in the number of national IGFs.

"The next key meeting in the UN process leading up to the General Assembly decision will be the meeting in the autumn of the GA 2nd Committee (Economic and Financial) when the resolution on the IGF will be negotiated. Ahead of this, BIS and our mission in New York will work with EU colleagues and other like-minded states to ensure that the scope of the resolution is limited to the issue of renewal for a further period (5 years) and that it should not extend to issues relating to reform of how the IGF is managed, conducted and funded."

7.22  The Minister concluded by undertaking to provide a further report back on the outcome of the Plenipotentiary discussions, which were to conclude towards the end of October and on the outcome of the General Assembly 2nd Committee prior to the General Assembly vote in December.

The Committee's assessment

7.23  We thanked the Minister for this comprehensive report, which we reported to the House because of the continuing importance of the issues in question.

7.24  We also looked forward to hearing further from the Minister on the outcome of the ITU meeting, particularly with regard to whether China, Russia and the others referred to by his predecessor earlier this year were now more reconciled to the ICANN/AoC approach or whether, within the ITU and at the UNGA, they were likely to continue to press for a more top-down, governmentally-controlled approach; and if so, how the Government and the EU proposed to tackle this.

7.25  In the meantime we continued to retain the Communication under scrutiny.[36]

The Minister's letter of 9 December 2010

7.26  The Minister begins his letter by explaining that he has delayed responding until there was a definitive outcome on the renewal of the IGF mandate to write about. He continues as follows


"As noted in my previous letter we were concerned, prior to the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, that proposals being submitted on Internet related issues and on cybersecurity could result in the ITU assuming an enhanced role in issues where we considered other bodies had competence. Such increased competence could, I argued, affect the economic and social benefits of the Internet.

"I am therefore pleased to report that while there were proposals tabled of this nature (notably by Russia and some of the Arab States) the opposition — notably led by the US; UK and other EU partners — prevailed with the result that new and amended Resolutions adopted actually do a lot to define the future ITU role in a way that is consistent with the UK views on what the ITU should do.

"On Internet public policy issues the revised Resolution 102 is important in that it commits the ITU to recognise—for the first time—the different organisations (such as ICANN) that have a role in Internet issues and to work with them. On Cybersecurity the revised Resolution 130 is also important in that it delineates the types of activity in this policy area that the ITU should be involved in (for example standard setting and capacity building in developing countries) and those it should not be; such as cybercrime, national security issues and cyber-warfare.

"I hope you will agree with me that this outcome was very positive; reflecting the hard work and good preparation put in by officials; business and OFCOM."


"The G77 (a grouping of 130 developing countries in the UN) traditionally lead in the Second Committee (Economic and Social Affairs) on the drafting of the annual ICT and Development resolution for the General Assembly which this year includes the future of the IGF following the ending of its current 5 year mandate. China had indicated it would work with the G77 to secure major changes to the IGF that would bring its management, funding and preparatory processes under the direct control of the UN through the creation of a new UN bureau to replace the existing independent Secretariat based in Geneva.

"With the aim of countering China's strong influence on the G77, a BIS/UKMIS[37] team undertook a programme of briefing meetings with key G77 representatives in New York, including the drafters of the Resolution (Malaysia and Egypt), to ensure that they fully understood the IGF multi-stakeholder model and were up to date following the successful IGF in Vilnius regarding the IGF's agenda of main themes (now including development), the wide range of workshop activities (over 100 in Vilnius), its preparatory processes, and evolving self-improvement such as its improved outreach to developing countries, notably through enhanced remote participation which increased the number of participating stakeholders to over 2,000.

"It was also underlined in the briefings that a process for negotiating further improvements to the IGF has already been established by a resolution of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in July which had asked for the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) to establish a working group for this process. It should not be a case therefore of renewal of the IGF mandate by the UNGA being contingent on the kind of improvements or radical change that China had proposed.

"I am pleased to report that the ensuing negotiations with the G77 during 28 October-23 November (when the UK worked as supporting burden-sharer for the EU Presidency) succeeded in removing all the mainly Chinese-inspired language from the draft UNGA Resolution which had advocated radical change to the IGF. The resulting text of the UNGA resolution is therefore a very satisfactory result because:

  • it renews the mandate of the IGF for a further 5 years without any radical change and is not contingent on the CSTD recommendations on improving the IGF;
  • it recognises the 'importance of the IGF and its mandate as a multi-stakeholder order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet'; and
  • stresses the need for national public policy process to include multi-stakeholder approaches and generally promotes national, regional and international multi-stakeholder partnerships which help institutionalise the IGF model at all layers.

"In particular the Resolution:

  • does not create a traditional UN bureau to manage the IGF and its preparatory agenda-setting processes, and it maintains the voluntary funding principle for the IGF Secretariat (the UK government has been a leading donor);
  • "advocates support for developing country 'enhanced participation', thereby advocating the relevance of the IGF and its preparatory meetings to the interests of developing countries and helps underline the message that 'the IGF is for all stakeholders in all countries: so make use of it';[38]
  • "underscores the ECOSOC decision to set up a CSTD working group on improvements which involves all stakeholders and will report by mid-2011. We will contribute actively to this work to ensure that the IGF continues to evolve and improve consistent with the aims of the WSIS.

"Furthermore, we succeeded in rejecting the attempt by certain G77 members throughout the negotiations to create in the Resolution a new annual reporting track for the Secretary General on progress in the improvement of the IGF. We therefore avoided the risk that this ICT for Development Resolution would effectively become an annual IGF review by the UN.

"I believe therefore that the UK's primary objectives in the negotiations on the future of the IGF were therefore achieved and overall this is a very satisfactory result for the global community of Internet stakeholders. It safeguards the continuing decentralised, bottom up evolution of the Internet, fostered by effective global cooperation involving all stakeholders."

7.27  The Minister concludes his letter with the hope that it has been useful in setting out what the Government has achieved in relation to the ITU and the IGF and an offer to provide any further details the Committee might wish.


7.28  We are grateful to the Minister for his very forthcoming letter, from which it is reasonable to deduce that the preferred UK approach has indeed been successful.

7.29  We are grateful to the Minister for his offer of further information, but are content for others to follow up further developments should they so wish.

7.30  For our part, the scrutiny process is now concluded, and we now clear the Communication.

29   See for full information on ICANN. Back

30   See headnote: HC 19-xxv (2008-09), chapter 1 (21 July 2009). Back

31   According to the Internet Society, DNS root name servers "are a small but essential part of the Internet Domain Name System (DNS)…. The root zone file is at the apex of a hierarchical distributed database called the Domain Name System (DNS). This database is used by almost all Internet applications to translate worldwide unique names like into other identifiers; the web, e-mail and many other services make use of the DNS. The root zone file lists the names and numeric IP addresses of the authoritative DNS servers for all top-level domains (TLDs) such as ORG, COM, NL and AU". For further information see  Back

32   See (27466) 8841/06 HC 41-xxi (2006-07), chapter 15 (9 May 2007) for the Committee's consideration of the Commission Communication: Towards a global partnership in the information society: follow-up to the Tunis phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).


33   See headnote: HC 19-xxv (2008-09), chapter 1 (21 July 2009). Back

34   For further information on the AoC, see  Back

35   See headnote: HC 5-xii (2009-10), chapter 1 (3 March 2010). Back

36   See headnote: HC 428-iii (2010-11), chapter 2 (13 October 2010). Back

37   The UK Permanent Mission to the UN, in New York. Back

38   The Minister's emphasis. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 10 February 2011