On October 1st, 2011, The Economist published two articles on the controversy surrounding government's attempts to control the internet. Using the annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi as a backdrop, the articles note how some governments want to transition away from the current “multi-stakeholder” approach to a more government-controlled internet. The multi-stakeholder approach describes how the internet is chaotically governed by a hotch-potch of organisations, causing decision-making to be slow and often unpredictable. The multi-stakeholder's founding fathers believed that more openness would be both more secure and better for innovation.
Until the early 2000s, most governments were happy—at least in Western countries where most internet users lived. Yet as the internet has become a global medium, attitudes have changed. Some governments are uncomfortable with the multi-stakeholder approach because they feel that the internet is too important, politically as well as economically, to continue to operate beyond the power of governments. China and Russia want the United Nations General Assembly to adopt an “International Code of Conduct for Information Security", and India, Brazil and South Africa have called for a “new global body” to control the internet.
The debate has strengthened as a result of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a body set up to manage the internet’s address system. Governments have long been unhappy with ICANN because it is not sufficiently transparent or accountable. The tensions came to a head when the ICANN board moved last year to allow many more “generic top-level domains” as the controversial suffixes of web addresses such as .xxx (see article) or .jesus. The point being, if even ICANN cannot command the respect of its stakeholders, the entire multi-stakeholder model may be in danger.
However, the articles note that for whatever chaos the multi-stakeholder approach causes, "the shambles are a lot better than the alternative—which nearly always in this case means governments bringing the internet under their control." The internet’s openness fosters two of its great virtues: encouraged innovation and resiliency to censorship. Governments have a role to play in the internet, but they should not be allowed the final say; creeping state control would suffocate the internet.
The article "In praise of chaos" can be found here.
The article "A plaything of powerful nations" can be found here.