As digital agenda commissioner I have long fought hard to keep the Internet driving positive change - helping Europe's economy and society. And now we are asking for your views on internet governance, based on these questions [pdf].
I have fought especially hard for an open Internet. As a network of networks, no one person or country owns the Internet, but we do need a clear set of rules that everybody needs to play by. I have defended such rules at international conferences on the Internet, most recently at the Internet Governance Forum in Baku – and, in particular, resisted attempts by others to push for significant increases to the scope of International Telecoms Regulations at the recent WCIT meeting in Dubai.
But since then a lot of things have happened. We have heard about massive surveillance operations by secret services, within Europe as well as the US. Of course we are extremely concerned by what that means for personal data protection. But this also has deep implications for the governance of the Internet. It is clearly influencing how some international partners are thinking. And it is even more important now that we agree on common principles for Internet governance, and how decisions are made in all Internet-related matters.
This autumn will be crucial in many ways. In Europe, I am proposing ambitious measures to bring down barriers within our connected continent. That's a priority for me, and a priority for our economic future, which I hope EU leaders will take seriously at their forthcoming summit.
But, at the same time as we bring those barriers down, I want to avoid new ones going up. Later this month, Internet world leaders are meeting at the Internet Governance Forum in Bali. I am sorry that, for the first time, I cannot be there in person myself. But I would like to contribute, both to make clear how closely and seriously we are watching this debate, and to stress the importance of having a clear and robust framework for Internet Governance and policy-making as soon as possible.
As it stands today, the conclusions of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) are the only international-level political agreement on Internet governance; and they are the subject of several consultations. Particularly important among those consultations are the discussions in the "WSIS+10" High-Level Event, and the UN Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation; I hope many of you will be contributing.
The Internet is increasingly the forum for so much of our lives; from transacting through commerce or banking; to interacting through social networks; to communicating with governments or pushing for democratic change. It's clear to me that the Internet is a European strategic domain – and, although the internet is a different kind of place to the "real world", our stance towards it should be underpinned by just the same values, priorities and interests as everything else.
This digital age needs a new social contract. Decisions that affect the Internet shouldn't be taken just by politicians, companies or technicians alone, without any reference to common principles.
So I believe that the new social contract must be based on sound principles. My starting point here are those in the Compact I first floated a couple of years ago; like that the Internet should remain open, unified, pro-democratic, enabling trust and confidence, and based on transparent, multi-stakeholder governance. Recent news shows just how fragile this balance of values can be; important efforts to tackle terrorist threats cannot be at the expense of fundamental freedoms.
But we also must have a clearer view of what we mean when we speak of "multi-stakeholder processes". I worry that without a clear definition, everyone will claim that their decision processes are inclusive and transparent, when in practice they are not – as was shown recently, when the Governmental Advisory Committee of ICANN pressed on regardless - in spite of the EU's legitimate concerns on new domain names.
As you may have seen, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently set out her strong belief in multi-lateral cooperation as a basis for Internet governance. I am looking forward to seeing further details – but in principle I very much support that line. Plus, our future Global Internet Policy Observatory will help give a more balanced view of how the Internet should be governed. And I know many of these issues will also be discussed in Bali.
But I want to take this seriously. These are my thoughts: but I want yours too; your ideas on how the Internet should be governed and what Europe's role should be.