Digital Citizenship

Although the Internet might seem like a public good, it is largely private property. The infrastructure that makes up the Internet (cables, computers, etc) belongs to a number of governments and companies. Ownership is decentralized; no single company or government owns all of the Internet. This decentralization is one of the reasons that it has traditionally been difficult to govern, or create and enforce rules relating to, the Internet.

One important player in Internet governance is the Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers (ICANN), which provides domain names [define]. Currently, the USA oversees this very important body, which many other governments find to be problematic. At the World Summit on the Information Society, ______ argued that given the global nature of the Internet, no one government should have as much control over something as important as ICANN.

The Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) agreed that while naming is important, it is not the only issue involved in Internet governance. Other issues, like overcoming the Digital Divide [link to section] are also involved.

Who should control the Internet? Should private corporations own the Internet and decide who can and can’t have a website, or is this the governments role? Currently it is a mixture of the two. In some countries companies own and operate infrastructure like telephone lines and dictate who has access and the cost of access. Some countries own their telecommunications network and decide on these issues. There are pros and cons to both, and the debate often boils down to whether corporations or governments can be held more accountable.

When it comes to enforcing law on the Internet, it is up to the country where the person broke the law to press charges. This makes it hard to enforce language laws, hate crimes, and child protection laws across international borders. If it is legal to express hate online using a web page in one country, anyone in a country where voicing hate is illegal can still access the page. In order to enforce laws countries sign treaties with each other. A controversial measure is to limit what people can use the Internet for in some countries, for example in China people are denied access to websites questioning the Chinese Communist Party.

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