Today I had the pleasure of speaking at the OECD’s High-Level Meeting on the Internet Economy. It is a chance for people across the world – from the US and Japan to Mexico and South Africa – to get together and talk about the challenges we are facing.
From how to deliver broadband for all, to how to keep the Internet open.
I spoke about my view of what matters on the Internet. There’s been a lot of discussion recently about principles which do, or should, underpin the network. The G8 recently agreed a few – principles like openness, freedom, non-discrimination and respect for human rights. Other bodies, including the OECD itself, are also developing their own.
I think this is a very worthwhile exercise for these bodies – and for the European Commission, too: it’s clear to me that the Internet is a European strategic domain – and our stance towards it should be underpinned by the same values, priorities and interests as everything else we do.
If, like me, you believe that the Internet is a force for positive change in the world, then it’s worth thinking about what the key features are that we couldn’t do without, the “internet essentials”, imperative features which must be preserved if the Internet is to go on playing the role it plays in the world.
So I’ve set out my own initial ideas about this. I think the main ingredients are these:
- Civic responsibility. On the internet, we are not atoms. And just as when we are out in “normal”, offline society, we bear responsibilities to each other which go beyond the purely legalistic, especially when there is harmful behaviour out there.
- One internet – we should safeguard the idea that, on the Internet, every node can communicate with every other. This unity is what allows the Internet to thrive in the way it has; we need to avoid fragmentation.
- Multistakeholder governance of the Internet – because the participation of all stakeholders in policy making is a good one, which we support in this domain and others.
- Pro-democracy. With the right tools – like open access to Government information, and platforms for collective action – the Internet can become an instrument supporting democratic life, and we should promote it as such.
- Architecture matters – the architecture of the internet is fundamental to its dynamics. I’m sure the architecture will change in the future as new challenges emerge – but we need to be aware of the implications that different models might have.
- Confidence of users is a prerequisite: barriers to confidence and trust are barriers to access. If we don’t solve problems like protection of personal data, privacy and identify; like online safety for children; like cybercrime and resilience of the network, then people will be turned off the net and we won’t unlock the Internet’s potential. And finally,
- Transparent governance – so that the multistakeholder model doesn’t fall apart. In particular we need to be transparent about the role which government representing their citizens play, and ensure that those views aren’t ignored.
So you could call this “a Compact for the Internet”.
This isn’t about regulation – as I’ve said before, the Internet should remain a place of freedom, and regulation should be only an exceptional last resort; in any case keyhole surgery rather than amputation.
But, as the Internet develops – becomes more and more part of our lives, and develops into new areas like the Internet of Things – then we need a vision of what properties of the Internet should remain. (See my speech on the IoT here).
These are just my initial ideas – I’ll be developing them further over the coming months. And I want to get your views too; what do you think really matters about the Internet? Tell me on this blog, or on Twitter: #internetcompact