Governments shouldn’t get in the way of the people who run the internet. Fine sentiments reported by the Guardian from UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey at the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul this week. They echo his speech to the ICANN meeting in London in June: "What governments shouldn’t be doing is attempting to manage how the internet is run."
Fine sentiments, but does the UK government live up to them?
Regrettably the UK government has not been immune from the temptation to take powers over internet governance institutions. Sections 19 to 21 of the Digital Economy Act 2010 gave it power to take direct control of the .uk domain by putting a manager into Nominet. The sections have not been brought into force, let alone the powers exercised. But the government hardly needs to once the potential exists.
In the current interstate tug-of-war over global internet governance every State accuses every other State of donning fig leaves to conceal self-interest. Here is an opportunity for the UK government to plant a flag in the high ground, to say ‘We mean what we say. We have backed off, how about you?’
So make the bold move, repeal Sections 19 to 21 and issue the challenge.
Or would the government backpedal? We can hear it now. “Reserve powers, only to be deployed in the last resort in the interests of UK plc, the Secretary of State cannot use them unless there is a serious failure in limited circumstances…” (See here the reasons put forward at the time the powers were legislated).
That won't wash. If failings are for a national government, not the internet governance community to sort out then fine sentiments are just so much vapour. Letting go of powers is more than desirable, it is a litmus test.