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EU pushes for less US control of the internet amid outrage over NSA spying

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Neelie Kroes, Brussels
Neelie Kroes, Brussels

The EU is challenging US control of the internet today with fresh proposals aimed at decentralizing authority. While there have been concerns over US control for years, today’s proposals follow widespread shock over the US surveillance activities of the NSA. The EU appears to be playing to those concerns, suggesting that the US-centric model of internet governance needs to transition to a global one.

More global internet control brings its own concerns

The EU’s proposals call for more transparency, accountability, and inclusive governance about how the internet is managed and run. Russia, China, and other nations have pushed for changes that would transfer duties such as domain name allocation away from ICANN, the US nonprofit organization that’s responsible for some of the web’s key infrastructure. UN agency International Telecommunication Union put together wide-ranging proposals for more global internet control, but they were previously rejected by US, Canada, Australia, and UK governments. One particular fear is that internationalization of internet governance could lead to more situations where countries filter the web unnecessarily. NSA concerns have also spurred many governments to pursue stronger data-protection laws, increasing concerns that the internet could become divided along national borders.

While there appears to be broad agreement that internet governance should be more global, the EU rejects the specific UN proposals. "I agree that governments have a crucial role to play, but top-down approaches are not the right answer," says European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes. "We must strengthen the multi-stakeholder model to preserve the internet as a fast engine for innovation."

At the heart of today’s EU proposals is the demand for a "clear timeline for the globalization of ICANN." The assignments of top-level domain names like .com and .net are still controlled by ICANN on contract from the US government. Any change towards a global effort would require transparency on internet policies, a global balance, and "clear rules" to create a level playing field says Kroes. The EU is also calling for safeguards to protect the open nature of the internet. All of the proposals form a foundation for what the EU describes as a common European approach in the global internet governance debate. "The next two years will be critical in redrawing the global map of internet governance," claims Kroes. "Europe must play a strong role in defining what the net of the future looks like."