A shared set of Internet Governance Principles

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” (Henri Bergson)

These past years the creation of a shared set of global Internet Governance Principles have been a key topic of discussion at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Apparently there are twenty something different sets of “Internet Governance Principles” worldwide developed in different contexts and with different purposes. Here’s one example from the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers (2011). This vast amount of principles of course leads to what has been named by many “forum shopping”. You pick from what every principles suits your purpose. And consequently this discussion about one set of principles, or at least a compendium of principles that may pave a uniform road forward.

I do not want to undervalue the work that is being done at the IGF on this particular topic. But I am at the same time wondering whether this is really the way we want to approach questions about the governance of the internet. I understand the pragmatic goal to legitimize what is being done at the IGF; to view and use this forum as more than just another “talk shop”. I also appreciate the efforts to reach common goals globally. But the creation of a set of globally shared uniform principles for the governance of the internet seems to me to be in contradiction to one of today’s most threatened values in internet governance. “Heterogeneity” as a value of governance is something we need to preserve and protect when discussing the future of the internet particularly these days.

But to protect this value does not go well in hand with an embrace of one set of globally shared principles. When creating a principle some parts of the reality which this principle is based on will always be omitted. Agreeing on a principle means to compromise. And somehow I do not see a model based on a compromise as the way forward in the governance of the internet or for that matter governance in the network society in general.