Written by Jefferson Anyega: KESIG 2017 participant.
The Kenya School of Internet Governance, presently in its second edition, focuses on raising awareness about emerging internet governance issues. The definition of internet governance has evolved over the years as stakeholders understanding of its role in shaping the digital era changed. The World Summit on Information Society, a UN sponsored organization, defined internet governance in 2005 as, “the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the internet”.
Definition of terms in internet governance include:
Cyber security: the technologies, processes and networks that provide protection to networks, data, computers and programs from damage, unauthorized access and attacks.
Cyber-squatting: The practice of registering names of well-known brands with the aim of profiting from their resale
Internet Service Providers: corporations that provide access to the internet
Net neutrality: the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should provide access to all applications and content regardless of their source and without discrimination.
Domain Name Server:the internet system that converts alphabetic names to IP addresses.
Zero-rating: the practice of mobile phone operators, mobile virtual network operators (MVNO), and Internet service providers (ISP) providing free access to some applications.
Importance of internet governance
The increasing digitization of modern life, from how we find and choose mates, to how we find and conduct work, to how we learn and transact underscores the importance of effective internet governance. Every person in Kenya and around the world has been affected by the internet. Effective policing of this powerful infrastructure is essential in protecting the rights of end users and promoting sustainable development of the digital ecosystem.
The Kenya ICT Action Network is inspired by recognition that effective internet governance relies on a bottom up approach where the stakeholders drive the development of policies on the sector. Stakeholders can be categorized into the following groups:
- Government: States regulate the internet within their jurisdictions, creating policies that govern the transactions of users and providing protections for their people.
- Technical community
- Civil Society
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)was established in 1948 under contract to the US Department of Commerce. The board of Directors of the non-profit organization, headquartered in California, holds the final authority on the decision-making process in the development of internet standards. It manages the global Domain Name System (DNS), a worldwide network of databases that maps domain names to IP addresses. The DNS is critical in creating an enabling infrastructure that supports the scalable, singular and universal internet. Although members of ICANN elect representatives to its board of directors, many observers believe that the United States holds disproportionate influence over the organization because of their legacy relationship. ICANN is an important issue in the discussion of internet governance because it is transnational, holds centralized control over the internet, a privilege that is only shared by a few entities;it’s dominated by non-state actors and is perceived to be under the influence of the United States.
The reliance of organizations and individuals on the internet for their commercial transactions highlights the need for developing an effective taxation policy to ensure the government benefits from its investment in creating a robust infrastructure. In Kenya, people have increasingly embraced the internet as a platform for selling their services and products. However, the Kenya Revenue Authority is yet to provide guidelines on the taxation of the platform. Similarly, the rise of online work in Kenya underpinned by the government’s creation of the Ajira program to create employment opportunity for youths in Kenya raises questions on how digital labor can be taxed.
Human rights is also an important issue, with Mr. Henry Maina, speaking at the convention, highlighting three key factors that must be considered in interrogating the laws that passed by the government.
- Any limitation that is passed by the government on online users must also be provided for in law.
- The limitations should be necessary in a democratic society with the purpose of protecting public order, public morality and preserving the rights of others.
- The limitations must be proportional and proportionate to the goal it intends to promote.
- The enactment of digital laws should pass a critical litmus test; that international human rights law should be applicable both online and offline.
Government shutdowns of the internet have been an important discussion between the tech ecosystem and the media. China, Cuba and Iran feature prominently among countries that repress internet freedoms in their jurisdiction. However, as individuals and corporates rely heavily on the internet for commerce, it is important to interrogate the financial cost of government shutdowns, their constitutionality and the compensation that can be afforded stakeholders who incur material losses when they occur. Is it even possible for a government to effectively shut down the internet anymore?
Challenges in internet governance
The primary challenge facing the evolution of internet governance involves the unwillingness of the government policy makers to recognize the need for a multi-stakeholder approach in formulating effective, practical and acceptable regulations. However, through organizations such as KICTAnet, the government of Kenya has demonstrated a willingness to engage with all stakeholders in shaping the future of the internet in the country.
The development of practical and enforceable policies remains a critical challenge for internet regulators. For instance, provisions of the data protection Act, as discussed in different parts of the world highlights the difficulties that governments may face in their implementation. Presently, Kenya lacks a data protection law, creating challenges for individuals who may feel that their rights have been infringed. The Data Protection Act bill is still under discussion, providing an opportunity for stakeholders to start their participation in shaping the future of the internet.
Discussions on internet governance are contentious because of the plurality of views on how the internet should work. Purists believe the internet should have minimal regulation, an ideology that is rooted in the nascent stages of the technology, but is increasingly removed from the amorphous nature of digital sprawl, as every aspect of human life becomes digitized. Governments believe that national security should be the primary consideration in the regulation of the internet while the private sector believes that minimal regulation and free market principles should be embraced. The sweet spot in internet regulation will inevitably feature tradeoffs between multiple concerns, with an emphasis on protecting the dignity and privacy of end users.
The lack of awareness on internet governance has undermined stakeholder participation as few people, even professionals in the ICT sector recognize its importance and are engaged in its evolution. In particular, Africa has not been actively engaged in shaping the evolution of internet governance. In spite of this observation, programs such as the Kenya school of internet governance are playing an important role in raising the importance of the subject in Kenyan society.
Opportunities in internet Governance
The Diplo Foundation offers a Masters in multilateral diplomacy with a minor in Internet Governance, an essential course in creating policy makers who recognize international relations are increasingly going to be shaped by ICT agreements between governments and multinational organizations.
Every person should be interested in internet governance because of the critical role it plays in our lives and the impact that policies have on how we communicate, work and play. Participation in internet governance debates is essential because it contributes towards shaping the internet that we use. In this case, the adage, “if you not at the table, you are on the menu” is very well alive.
Jefferson Anyega-KESIG participant, 2017.