Rolf H. Weber/Thomas SchneiderInternet Governance and Switzerland’s Particular Role in its Processes

Rolf H. Weber/Thomas Schneider, Internet Governance and Switzerland’s Particular Role in its Processes, pp. 53–78 (Zurich 2009).

Background

The text of Rolf H. Weber and Thomas Schneider has been published against the background that Switzerland has played an active role in developing Internet governance principles throughout the history of the Internet’s global implementation. The deep commitment of Switzerland to the Internet governance processes can be seen in the fact that the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was held in Geneva in December 2003; thereafter, amongst others, Switzerland has been a driving force behind the entire WSIS process by mobilising important partners (such as international organisations) and by making available substantial financial resources and personal commitments.

As a further contribution to ongoing discussions, Switzerland was an active partner in the working groups that prepared the second phase of WSIS in November 2005 in Tunis; not only did Switzerland host two important preparatory committee meetings in Geneva, it also contributed substantially to the development of the Tunis outcome. Furthermore, the Swiss diplomat Markus Kummer, who had been the facilitator in the negotiations about the paragraphs on Internet governance prior to the Geneva Summit, was asked in 2004 by the UN Secretary-General to chair the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) that prepared the ground for the agreements on Internet governance at the WSIS 2005 in Tunis. Subsequently, in early 2006 Markus Kummer was appointed as the head of the Executive Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

From the Swiss side, the Federal Office of Communication (OFCOM) has been the driving force in Internet governance processes. The OFCOM has also, together with the Council of Europe and other partners, initiated and supported the European dialogue on Internet governance (EuroDIG). In addition, the OFCOM was also instrumental for the realisation of the Swiss IGF.

The authors of the text, Rolf H. Weber and Thomas Schneider, have been involved in the discussions about Internet governance since the beginning. Rolf H. Weber is a professor in international business law at the University of Zurich and widely publishes on Internet governance issues. He has been a member of an expert group of the Council of Europe preparing recommendations on Internet governance principles, an expert of UNESCO for the delivery of a report comparing declarations of more than 50 Internet governance principles and vice-chairman of the steering committee of GigaNet, the academic research network on Internet governance (cf. also the text of Weber, 4.4).

Thomas Schneider is vice-director of the Swiss OFCOM and is a representative for Switzerland in international relations related to Internet governance issues. He expresses the voice for Switzerland in international fora, particularly the IGF and EuroDIG. Furthermore, Thomas Schneider has been the chairperson of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN since 2014. Weber and Schneider have also been instrumental in the establishment of the Swiss IGF.

Summary

The brochure of about 80 pages starts with a brief summary of the notion and the history of Internet governance. Thereafter, multistakeholderism is described as a key element of Internet governance. The stakeholders (governments, private sector, civil society, academic and technical community) and their respective roles regarding Internet governance are discussed. In addition, the important principles for the multistakeholder approach such as public participation, legitimacy, transparency and accountability find an appropriate description. The key body for realising the multistakeholder approach is the Internet Governance Forum (IGF); therefore, Weber and Schneider summarise the experience of the first four years of the IGF. Furthermore, the Internet governance framework from a European perspective, particularly the implementation of the EuroDIG, is outlined.

The quoted text deals with Switzerland’s exact role in the Internet governance processes. The reason for this major chapter in the brochure has to be seen in Switzerland’s long-lived experience with consensus-based and participatory governance in a multistakeholder environment. The Swiss democracy system has to balance individual rights with societal duties, integrate different cultures, minorities and disadvantaged populations, and develop models that allow these groups to participate in agenda setting and policy shaping. Switzerland has proven that such models, although they seem to be complicated, expensive and tiresome, are effective and able to produce sustainable solutions that are based on a common view and a willingness to respect and implement decisions. Having one of the oldest democracies in the world, Switzerland is considered successful because of the way it has reconciled the divisions amongst cantons, cultures, languages, parties and religions. The text outlines the details of the Swiss democratic structure, the federal subsidiarity principle, the «Rechtsstaat» principle and the neutrality principle.

Participatory direct democracy in Switzerland is seen as a powerful tool to enhance transparency, legitimacy and accountability of governance mechanisms. Participatory direct democracy gives citizens the opportunity to amend government or parliament decisions when they believe the decisions taken do not follow their wills or needs. These characteristics are also important in respect of the governance of the Internet: Participation and involvement of civil society has a legitimizing effect insofar as it allows for better credibility of actions taken by the competent institutions. The involvement of civil society in decision-shaping and decision-making processes strengthens public awareness of the issues at stake as well as public confidence in the decisions taken. Therefore, on account of its democratic credentials, Switzerland is well placed to feed its experience into the greater European contributions towards the development of Internet governance processes.

The subsidiarity principle states that all matters should be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralised competent authority possible and that the centre should only have the power if such kind of centralisation is most appropriate. The term federalism describes a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (such as cantons). Since Switzerland maintains a culturally diverse society and provides politically legitimate institutions and procedures to facilitate peaceful co-existence, it can set a successful example for the efficiency of subsidiarity and federalism by trying to keep the decision-making mechanisms closest to the control of the people confronted with the effects of the decisions. Correspondingly, Internet governance concerns stakeholders from a plethora of countries, cultures, languages and religions. Adapting the federal subsidiarity principle, and avoiding the concentration of power by dividing sovereignty, is a further crucial factor to include all the different stakeholders in the whole Internet governance process.

The «Rechtsstaat» principle, which encompasses more aspects than just the «rule of law», is characterised by the principle of separation of powers and the legality principle limiting agency action as well as constitutional and administrative review. The «Rechtsstaat» principle should also apply within the Internet governance processes in order to guarantee the certainty of the law to everyone who acts within the Internet. In order to enable all participants to complain against certain decrees, the creation of a body to provide traditional review is essential. Internet governance requires the creation of different entities, each with separate and independent powers and areas of responsibility. Clear rules need to be introduced in order to strengthen the public’s confidence in the Internet.

The neutrality principle describes the non-involvement in other State’s wars. This approach should avoid dependence from other countries or powers. Similar considerations also apply to the governance of the Internet. It is of utmost importance for the whole Internet governance process to preserve independence from political powers and develop independent organisational structures.

The quoted text further discusses Swiss substantive regulations supporting Internet governance, namely access to infrastructure (broadband) and e-participation/e-democracy. These discussions address: access to broadband in the net as part of the universal service obligation in Switzerland, including for people with disabilities; continuing access to the Internet as an integral part of the quality life and thus an indispensable requirement for human interaction; the particular importance of removing access barriers to benefit disadvantaged people. Switzerland has introduced quite an extensive regulatory framework in this context and could feed the international community with the respective experiences. The new technical possibilities also invite a re-thinking of the way the organisation of information in bureaucratic governmental entities or regulatory agencies should be established. Information and communications technologies (ICT), in conjunction with legal norms, should help to build trust as part of good governance; relations based on trust between governments and citizens improve engagement and motivation. A particular topic that could improve e-participation is e-voting. The prerequisites for the implementation of e-voting systems are the identification of the voting person and the guarantee of anonymity of the voting person.

All in all, the text evidences the Swiss experiences with policy development and policy making in a heterogenic, multicultural and multistakeholder environment and shows the effectiveness of participatory, people-centred, decentralised and inclusive government models. By feeding this experience into the international Internet governance process, Switzerland can make a valuable contribution to realising an adequate regulatory framework for the future governance of the Internet.

Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Weber_Schneider – Internet Governance.